ATLANTA — Many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one industry you may not realize is being hit hard is child care centers.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has released a new survey showing that about two out of five child care programs will permanently close without government help.
The startling statistic comes as parents are facing a very difficult decision of whether or not it’s safe to send their child to daycare.
Channel 2′s Michael Seiden found this could become a big problem, especially for essential workers and single parents.
Several child care center owners across metro Atlanta told Seiden that this nightmare could soon become reality.
"So, prior to COVID-19, my son was going to daycare three times a week for half a day, and then in the afternoon he had a nanny come into our home," local mom Melissa Cooper said.
She and her husband, Jamal, rely on child care in order to work. When the pandemic hit, they, like thousands of other parents across Georgia, found themselves desperate for help.
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“There are times we’re in the morning. Like, he would wake up first and take care of our sons, or mom in the afternoon, I would take care of him, and just kind of flip-flop based on what the schedule was going to be like for the day,” Cooper said.
Melissa's decision comes at a time when child care centers across America are on life support.
NAEYC conducted its survey of more than 5,000 child care providers across the country, and the results are devastating.
"We know clearly that without public-sector intervention, this field will collapse," said Rhian Allvin, the association's CEO.
According to the survey:
Two out of five respondents—and half of those who are minority-owned businesses—are certain that they will close permanently without additional public assistance.
Of the child care centers that have re-opened, 86% are serving fewer children than they were prior to the start of the pandemic.
At the same time, 70% of child care centers are incurring substantial, additional costs for staff, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
“Enrollment is down, either because parents are keeping their children at home, or because public health guidance is saying you have to have really reduced enrollment,” Allvin said. “You can’t make the economics work because you don’t have enough children in the classroom to pay the cost of your teachers.”
Channel 2 Action News contacted several metro Atlanta child care center owners, including Breyona Clark. She and her husband own London’s Little Angels Learning Academy on Campbellton Road in South Fulton. They re-opened their doors in May.
“We were at 76 and right now, we’re pushing 30,” Clark said. “We’ve called our (client) parents and talked to them and they’re just afraid.”
Which is why Clark says she and her staff have gone above and beyond so parents feel comfortable dropping off their kids.
“The kids (age) 3 and over are wearing masks. The staff is wearing masks. We’re using gloves,” Clark said. “(We’re) spraying down the toys. Spraying down the classrooms with disinfectants. Sanitizing our toys at nap time.”
This child care crisis is also hitting home for Sharon Foster, owner of Bells Ferry Learning Center in Woodstock and Marietta.
“My Woodstock Bell’s Ferry Learning Center location remained open throughout the pandemic,” she said. “We served essential workers, although our enrollment dropped from about 94% in February, all the way down to 20% in March through May, which was devastating.”
Foster, who also serves as president of the Georgia Child Care Association, told Seiden that she's hearing mixed opinions from parents who are concerned and supportive of sending their kids to day care.
“We have very well-planned, thought-out safety measures in place that are in line with all of the CDC guidelines, but should something happen that forces us to shut down again, not only is our program going to be in real jeopardy, but the parents who rely on us so they can go to work are going to be faced with the loss of their child care provider yet again,” Foster said.
“If I don’t have kids, why should I care about this?” Seiden asked Allvin.
“We know high-quality childcare produces seven, at least a minimum of for every dollar invested, a $7 return on investment,” Allvin said.
So is there any help coming from the federal government?
In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the child care industry received $3 billion from the federal government. Right now, child care advocate groups say there’s a push to provide between $25- and $50 billion in aid. Without support from the federal government, this industry will collapse.
They say you can help by getting in touch with your lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and talking to your company about child care benefits.