LORAIN, Ohio — With many school buildings shuttered this fall, parents are struggling to find care for their children who are now set to learn remotely.
Early childhood centers are scrambling to meet the demand for their services and many are having a hard time finding the staff they need to expand their programs.
“These parents still need to work, so they need a place for their children to go where they’re safe,” said Sarah Bishop of Neighborhood Alliance.
With more than two dozen families currently on a wait list, Bishop, director of Neighborhood Alliance’s Enrichment Centers, is striking out as she tries to find teachers so she can expand her two centers.
“We’re seeing the shortage statewide. In the early childhood field, it’s always a struggle,” Bishop said.
Neighborhood Alliance wants to add three additional classrooms at its Lorain and Elyria locations.
“We’re able to open tomorrow if we had the staff,” Bishop said.
But those plans are now on hold with parents left in limbo.
“The challenge is there for sure,” said Jennifer Dodge.
Dodge is with the Childcare Resource Center which matches early childhood education facilities in five Northeast Ohio counties with teachers and substitutes.
“We definitely want to be there to help support them,” Dodge said.
Dodge said there are several reasons why there's a staffing shortage, which isn't a new issue.
"COVID has made it harder than it was even before,” Dodge said.
Dodge said making things worse is that some early education employees found new jobs during the shutdown, others are taking advantage of unemployment benefits or are concerned about returning to childhood centers.
"We've been dealing with that kind of ongoing, as the childcare system has been reopening,” Dodge said.
To try and entice some of those qualified workers back Bishop is getting creative and adding extra incentives.
“We’re offering a four-day work week, vacation, sick time and personal time as well and we’re also offering free childcare for our staff,” Bishop said.
With centers forced to reduce their capacity for several months, Dodge said extra perks are not possible for many of them.
“Most don’t have the money right now to invest deeply into incentives,” Dodge said.
Dodge said Neighborhood Alliance is the exception, not the norm right now.
“So, if they’re making those choices they’re making those choices and something else will suffer as a result,” Dodge said.