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Study: Waning pandemic could still create new child care deserts in Cuyahoga County

Virus Outbreak Child Care
Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 18:54:18-04

CLEVELAND — The process to come out of this pandemic is picking up steam, but some fear it may be too late for the backbone of our economy.

Despite vaccination rates rising rapidly, there's growing concern about child care facilities rebounding from the coronavirus.

“It is basically the workforce behind the workforce,” said David Smith.

At Smith’s Horizon Education Centers, boys and girls are cracking open books and playing with blocks, but there are far fewer of them than before the pandemic.

“Right now, we have enrollment around 1,100 kids,” said Smith.

Horizon and its 11 centers serving parents in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties can accommodate 2,000 children.

“The biggest challenge we have right now is staffing,” said Smith.

However, without teachers, this non-profit provider will remain stuck at 60% capacity.

Smith said that is not sustainable.

“It’s been a perfect storm with costs up, enrollment down and staffing sidelined — it’s been very difficult to make ends meet,” said Smith.

Horizon, like most daycare facilities, has been struggling to keep its doors open.

Horizon Education Center is hosting three job fairs in the coming weeks to help fill positions and is even offering a $500 sign-on bonus. See details about the job fairs below, head to HorizonOhio.org or call 440-779-1930 to learn more.

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Flyer for a series of upcoming job fairs for Horizons Education Centers.

“The State of Ohio and federal government have put a lot of money into child care, but if we don’t get our enrollments back up to 90%, we’re not going to be around anymore,” said Smith.

A new study just released pulls back the curtain on the impact of COVID-19 on child care in Cuyahoga County.

"What we learned from this study is the effects are not uniform,” said Meghan Salas Atwell.

Salas Atwell, along with other researchers at Case Western Reserve University, discovered that between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of children 5 and younger enrolled in childcare in the county plummeted 43% while capacity at facilities dropped 29%.

The Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development found women and communities of color experienced the biggest challenges in the loss of daycare options.

"We can use this information so that we can be smart about recovery and strategic and do it in a way that's equitable,” said Salas Atwell.

The team at Case found that this under-enrollment caused by the pandemic could threaten the survival of many local providers and possibly create new child care deserts.

"The sustainability of our child care delivery system is critical and it's fragile. It's a tenuous system that's been that way well before the pandemic and then you have this huge shock to a system that's that fragile it's going to have a hard time recovering,” said Salas Atwell.

Smith said the clock is ticking as they try to recruit the staff they need to stick around well after this pandemic ends.

“If we don’t get up to 90% in the next 14 months it’ll be devastating to us, as well as many child care centers across the state,” said Smith.