Child care world on edge as school reopening decision looms

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With the school year approaching, it's made their job even more difficult.

"The current state is not pretty," Beth Starks, Founder and Executive Director of the Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center, said. "I was on interviews three months ago saying how horrible it was. It was in crisis mode pre-pandemic. Whatever is beyond a crisis, I guess you would call it a pandemic, that's the issue. Our child care industry is on the verge of collapse."

Along with volatility over slot availability and ever-changing regulations, child care providers face new costs trying to obtain personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and other materials. Starks said there are some places that are still having trouble getting access to that equipment that will be used to protect children and staff from coronavirus.  

"We've been looking at clear masks for our infant and toddler teachers so that the infants are not afraid and they can see the teacher's mouth move so they can learn how to speak," Starks said. "All of that is really, really important and expensive. We can't get access."

The clock is ticking as New York contemplates how to handle the reopening of schools. Most schools submitted their reopening plans to the state on Friday and the governor's office is expected to make a decision on schools sometime this week.

But Starks said it's been incredibly difficult for child care providers to coordinate with the various sectors because every place is unique. For example, schools may have a different policy than an office or manufacturing business.

"All of that intersects and could have a huge impact on the other sector," she said. "A business might be waiting right now to hear a plan for the school so they know how to bring their employees back. In Chautauqua County, there's 18 school districts. If every single district were to have a different plan, think of that from an employer have employees that have all different needs. From a child care perspective, I can take half of the children on an 'A' day and the other half on 'B' but if a different school has a different schedule, there's no way that I have enough slots for all of those children."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said last month that $9.6 billion is needed each month to support the child care industry. Starks said $50 billion from the upcoming coronavirus stimulus package is significant because it can keep their industry going for up to ten months.

"It's a moving target because I can't predict how many children I'm going to have next week or the week after," she said. "I just know I was at 25 percent capacity. I'm now at 75 percent. As schools reopen, I don't have space in the school I lease from so I'll need all that space...and how much money I will need. It all depends on how many children I have there. It's really hard to estimate because it's hard to predict what employers will do."