Child Care Providers Are Essential Too!: How COVID-19 has impacted child care centers in Texas

By Allie Long, Digital Communications Coordinator at the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing

Thank you to child care workers

In a time of great uncertainty due to COVID-19, many people have taken comfort in finding creative ways to display gratitude for our frontline workers. Whether through window signs, YouTube videos, or city-wide applause, we recognize the immense toll that this time is taking on those who are putting their personal health on the line to help the community at large. However, we’ve noticed that there’s been relatively little recognition of child care providers as frontline workers and the ways that these professionals have been impacted by Coronavirus.

Our team has conducted multiple studies related to child care over the last ten years and we are constantly in awe of the dedication child care providers demonstrate in spite of multiple challenges. In our current work, we were able to add an additional survey question for providers to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on them. We discovered that child care providers are faced with a very difficult choice: either shut down and wait out the pandemic until they are able to get the necessary resources and funding needed to maintain their businesses, or put more efforts into serving a drastically smaller percentage of children while attempting to pay the same steep operating costs in order to serve frontline worker families— all while putting their own health at risk.

In the initial collection of some 200+ responses to this question over the last four months, several themes have begun to present themselves. Some of the most common themes included: loss of staff & revenue, forced shut down, restricted resources, and a decline in enrollment. We know how important it is to honor the experiences of those who are helping to keep our communities running. For this reason, we’ve included several direct quotes from child care providers that reflect these four dimensions of concern. Please keep in mind this is just an initial summary of what we are seeing in our survey; a more comprehensive analysis will take place later this year.

Loss of Staff & Revenue

“I’m sure it’s affected [us] like everyone else. [We have] very low staff. We’re in X County, so we have more restrictions than some other locations. We’re only allowed 12 children in a classroom, with the same teacher all day. We can only take children of essential workers. Even with everyone going back to work, if they aren’t essential, we can’t take them. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon, or as normal as they can be.”

“When you work out the numbers, we’ve lost revenue, of course. On top of that, they’ve requested that we get loans–when they give bailouts to other industries, even some industries that were closed. We remained open. You can’t virtually teach an infant. You can’t virtually teach a toddler. Here we are still providing care, and we’ve received no assistance, no federal dollars. I applied for the PPP loan when it first came out, and I just got my PPP loan Friday. If I was really dependent on that funding to keep my staff, I would have very well lost my business and my staff because that loan came 2 months later. It has affected us tremendously. I’m disappointed that the weakness of our industry has been exposed, and there’s still been no efforts to help to us. Most of us are female-owned businesses. I’m just frustrated that they want us to seek loans, when everyone else is getting free funding. We’re just trying to make it week to week.”

Forced Shut Down

“I’ve got about three or four teachers working per day because I’m averaging 15-20 kids. There’s so many people that are out of work, they don’t have the money to pay us and if they can find someone who’s not working to keep their children then that’s what they’re going to do. Everyone’s home and trying to save as much money as they can so it has pretty much run us down to nothing. The SBA loan will run out at the end of May and there’s no way we can keep it going. We are going to have to shut down.”

Restricted Resources

“It has affected us a lot. Cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, soaps, antibodies, it’s hard to find. If we went to Sam’s and found toilet paper, we grabbed it. We’ve had trouble getting hand sanitizer, paper towels, and a lot of it is out of stock… thermometers[, too]. We have to take their temperature every day and if they have a temperature, even a low-grade fever, we send them home. We are also having a hard time getting masks, the things we need to stay healthy are hard to find. Now we have to have bags for the kid’s belongings, parents can’t come into the building. What I don’t like is not having parents bringing kids into the classrooms unless we take their temperature. We have parents looking out for us and bringing what they can. It’s pretty bad, but we’re surviving.”

“We have the lowest paying wages. We’re still one of the lowest paid industries. We can’t provide health benefits for our staff. They aren’t really making living wages. It’s frustrating. As a director and an owner, I just try to make my staff know that I appreciate them with little things I do: maybe a gift card, or lunch. And I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve stayed with me. Some staff have been here 23 years.”

Decline in Enrollment

“The biggest thing is just the amount of kids. We had about 80-90 kids before COVID, now I literally have 15 kids today, last week I had seven… I’m hoping it picks up and that’s what’s kind of keeping me going… We want to help and we’re open for essential employees, but we don’t have the funds to open for them because I don’t own the building and renting the building is $10,000. The kids that are here now don’t pay for that. So I’m losing money while I’m trying to provide care for the kids”

“We went from 165 children to 41 in a few weeks. The government needs to remember us, as we are forefront workers, too. Since non-essential parents are going back to work, they need to lift the ban of not getting non-essential workers’ children in. The children will have nowhere to go.” 

How to Help

The insights above illustrate the dedication Texas childcare workers have to their communities, and the desire to continue their work even in the midst of a global pandemic. At the same time, child care providers are having to operate under incredible stressors that are impacting their finances and their futures immensely.

We are so grateful to our frontline child care providers, and we hope that by sharing their experiences we are shedding light on the many ways that our community works to take care of itself in difficult times.

If you’re someone who has enjoyed showing support for frontline medical workers, there are also many ways that you can directly help support child care providers in your community.

Some examples include:

  • Reach out to your local child care facilities and ask about what in-kind donations they might need (diapers, non-perishable snacks, hand sanitizer, masks, etc.).
  • Donate to organizations that are helping child care workers.
  • If you have kids, consider a family art project where you write letters together, thanking their current or former child care providers.

If you are a child care provider and you need more support, consider the following resources:

Stay tuned for the a more detailed report on child care provider’s perspectives during COVID.