State Study Confirms Child Care Centers Could Close Due To COVID-Related Costs
It's been a busy few months for Rebecca Fielding-Miller.
As an epidemiologist and assistant professor at UC San Diego, she's been helping in the fight against the coronavirus.
But as the mother of an almost-three-year-old, she's also been trying to get work done with a toddler at home.
Her daughter's childcare center closed in March, so Fielding-Miller and her husband did split shifts, pre- and post-nap. Then they hired a babysitter part-time. Then full time. But as the end of summer approached, the babysitter needed to go back to school.
"We got word that our daycare was opening again but not until the end of August," Fielding-Miller said, and that's not to mention it was moving to a new location and raising its rates.
Fielding-Miller's situation is becoming more common for parents in San Diego County and across the state, as childcare centers struggle to stay in business. Experts say the closures signal the start of a crisis that will have ripples across the economy.
A study from UC Berkeley found that in Southern California, 62% of childcare programs experienced a loss of income due to low attendance or families not paying the fees, and 81% made staffing changes including laying off employees or cutting benefits.
"There's a tension between physical health and financial well being," said Lea Austin, the author of the study and director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley. "People providing the childcare are worried about their own health risks, but they are taking that risk to avoid financial collapse."
Austin's results were similar to a survey KPBS conducted of 10 local child care providers, all of whom said they were losing money due to reduced class sizes and greater restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Child care centers in California need grants from the government to stay afloat, Austin said. She suggested the state do something similar to a stabilization fund offered to child care centers in Vermont.
"If we want the economy in California to rebound and to be robust going forward, child care is so critical," Austin said.
Currently, San Diego County staff are drawing up plans for grants to local child care centers, and the Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal next week.
Austin's study found 39% of child care centers and 80% of home daycares in Southern California stayed open during the pandemic. But they had to weather increased costs due to cleaning, and restrictions about teachers mixing with different classrooms and decreased revenues because of smaller class sizes.
Those social distancing requirements hurt child care centers financially but also seem to have paid off by protecting public health. While there have been significant local outbreaks traced back to nursing homes, bars and restaurants in San Diego County, so far only three have originated from community-based organizations or day cares, according to county data.
Data from the California Department of Social Services shows so far, there have been 98 total COVID-19 cases tied to child care centers and home day cares, including staff, children and parents. Fewer than 30 children and 30 parents have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.
Austin said there needs to be more recognition of the impact on the people who work at child care centers, the majority of whom are women of color.
"We talk about the concerns about reopening schools in person not because of health risks to children, but to staff. But then in the same breath, there are conversations that we need to make sure child care is open and available," she said.
"There is a real disconnect when we're talking about adults working with older children and younger children as if those staff are less vulnerable. But actually they're more vulnerable because they are members of communities being most impacted by the virus."
As for Fielding-Miller, she was able to find a new day care in a neighbor's home for her daughter. But she worries about the larger impact the child care crisis will have on working parents, particularly women.
"Women have been disproportionately doing the care work," she said. "That happened in my own household, certainly not by malign intent, it just happens. I don't even know how it just happens."