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The Pandemic Is In A New Phase But Child Care Centers Still Struggling

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Providers are trying to figure out how to balance increasing class sizes and flexibility so they can stay in business without making parents uncomfortable.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Childcare centers were hit hard here in San Diego and across the country during the pandemic and their troubles. Aren't going away. KPBS reported Claire. Traegers her talk to providers who are still taking precautions while trying to stay afloat financially.

Speaker 2: 00:17 It's been a rough past year and a half for Randy bum and his four year old son, miles, miles. Are you okay? So they were excited for miles his first day at a new preschool last week, but their excitement didn't last long.

Speaker 3: 00:33 We caught a summer cold. And with any cold, um, for you to go back to school, you need a negative COVID test.

Speaker 2: 00:40 Just one day at school, Myles was home again. He went back on Friday, but on Saturday they got more bad news.

Speaker 3: 00:49 Uh, I get a call from the YMC. Um, long story short, one of the kids over the weekend tested positive, and the kid was at school on Friday. So that's where this is in miles as class. So miles was exposed. So his class automatically shut down for two weeks.

Speaker 2: 01:06 Lum and his wife, Abigail are back to a reality. They thought they'd moved past, trying to work from home while taking care of miles and his younger sister Emilia though, Emilia wasn't exposed. They're also keeping her home for two weeks.

Speaker 3: 01:20 Abby's upstairs, uh, working normally, and I'm just stuck downstairs with the devils.

Speaker 2: 01:28 At most childcare centers. It's still looks like 20, 20 kids, 12 and under are unvaccinated. So everyone ages two and up are wearing masks and providers are still taking other precautions, which is hard on their business. So it says Laura cone and early education and childcare advisor, some

Speaker 4: 01:47 Of them are choosing to serve fewer kids or serve them in stable groups that make it harder to staff. And all of those things are just reducing the total amount of revenue that they can pull in for their business. And, um, already these are businesses operating on thin to nonexistent

Speaker 2: 02:08 Margins. Sally Chenowith, the owner of discovery preschool and Oceanside says, she's now at 70% capacity, but she can't count on consistency. Especially now that the Delta variant is causing cases to surge. Again,

Speaker 4: 02:23 I could have called off my waitlist and filled up all of my classes like right away could have done it. But, um, I'm just so worried that things are going to go back in the other direction. And then I'm going to have to ask all these people that started now, you have to leave and go do something else with

Speaker 2: 02:38 Says she like many providers are struggling to hire new staff. She's also had to pass on cost to parents this year. She raised rates by 8%.

Speaker 5: 02:48 Sorry. I need these for my magic ocean castle, Holly

Speaker 2: 02:52 Weber, the owner of magic hours children's center in Mira. Mesa says she's at 60% capacity now. And she's stuck at that level because she can't hire more qualified staff to increase class sizes.

Speaker 4: 03:05 The only thing that's stopping us is having a qualified staff member to continue to build the

Speaker 2: 03:10 COVID vaccine for kids to an up should be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. It could possibly come by late fall, early winter, but it doesn't make Weber feel

Speaker 4: 03:20 Much better once it becomes available. How many parents are willing and comfortable to give their child? The vaccine

Speaker 2: 03:27 Positive is that masks have really cut down on the typical illnesses that usually coarse through daycare centers. Weber says she plans to use them well into the future during cold and flu season. But she's worried about the developmental impact.

Speaker 4: 03:43 We have two year olds that, you know, we that have never seen the faces of their caregiver for

Speaker 2: 03:48 Parents like love. He knows the, your head will likely involve staying at home from work. When a kid is sick, even with just a runny nose. And that puts new weight on his day-to-day decisions.

Speaker 3: 04:00 Having kids at home who are not vaccinated, who won't be vaccinated for probably another year, I'm going to wear a mask. I'm going to wear a mask like nothing's changed because nothing has Claire triglyceride

Speaker 2: 04:13 KPBS news.

Speaker 1: 04:16 Joining me is early education and childcare advisor, Laura cone, Laura. Welcome. Thank you. Last week, the CDC and pediatricians groups advised masking for all students to and up and all staff in school settings, regardless of the staff's vaccination status is that what's been standard though in most preschool settings. Anyway,

Speaker 4: 04:40 Uh, not quite until now. The masking has been advised and recommended for childcare settings, but not required and not enforced. So we're moving into, um, a new phase in terms of masks and childcare where, um, it's going to be mandatory. So one

Speaker 1: 04:58 Of the teachers in this report said some young children have never seen the faces of their caregivers without a mask on. What do you think is the impact of that?

Speaker 4: 05:09 No, honestly, we, we worried a great deal about that at the beginning of the pandemic, when mask wearing was new to all of us, uh, what we've learned is that first of all, children, even small children are more willing and compliant about wearing their mask than we expected to be. And secondly, although some children maybe are affected by not seeing, um, the faces and the smiles, it's not as severe of an impact, or it's not an impact on many children at all that we worried it would be. So I share, I share some concern about that, but, um, overall I'm very concerned about the COVID pandemic as well. And so, um, I'm, I'm glad we're taking the precautions. We need to keep teachers and children safe.

Speaker 1: 05:57 Now in this year's budget, the state doubled the number of subsidized childcare slots and increased rates paid to teachers. Is that a significant help to daycare providers here in San Diego?

Speaker 4: 06:10 Oh, absolutely. Yeah. We're thrilled about that. There are families who, who don't make enough to afford the market rate of childcare and have not been able to access publicly funded childcare, um, until now. And so these extra slots are gonna make a huge difference for families. And then the additional payments to providers from the state for those subsidized slots are long overdue. I have to say, but extremely welcome. Now

Speaker 1: 06:40 We heard in this report that parents may not yet be comfortable sending their kids to preschool or daycare. Is there any way childcare providers can increase that comfort level?

Speaker 4: 06:51 I think, um, being very transparent with families about the precautions that you're taking helps a lot. A second thing is to let families know that we've been watching, um, childcare operate during the pandemic. Although many providers are closed, many, many of them have been continuously operating. And we have not seen many instances at all of transmission of COVID-19 in childcare. So we need to be careful and cautious and aware that COVID is not gone. But we also can be assured that, um, that our experience so far has showed that childcare is not a major source of transmission of the disease.

Speaker 1: 07:36 Now there are companies across the nation, well like Qualcomm here in San Diego that say they want all employees back in the office in some capacity by September, but what the childcare situation so precarious do you think that will be possible?

Speaker 4: 07:53 I think it's going to be tough for families. I guess the thing I would emphasize is that the childcare situation was precarious and tough even before the pandemic. So working parents in San Diego county have been struggling, struggling, struggling to find care arrangements that they can afford, that they feel confident are going to nurture their children. Um, and that are convenient for where they have to go to work. It was already tough. So the impacts that the pandemic has caused on the sector are absolutely going to make it even, even tougher for parents to go back to work full time. So for that reason, it's really important for us here in our region to step up to doing everything we can to support the childcare sector and childcare providers, not just to kind of limp through the pandemic, but really reset our system and set it up for growth and for quality over the longterm. And I've been just so thrilled to see, um, many of our politicians and leaders recognizing the importance of childcare as a, an essential part of our economic health and growth and, um, leaning in to figure out ways that our county government, our city governments and our school district governments, I really want to emphasize that can help meet working. Parents needs, keep kids safe and learning, um, and help our economy get back on track.

Speaker 1: 09:19 Now educators have known for years that good early education can really boost a child's chances for success in school. Do you have concerns that we now have a group of very young children who've lost that boost?

Speaker 4: 09:32 Yes, absolutely. Um, I'm really worried. I'm worried about families who chose not to send their children to kindergarten, uh, virtual kindergarten last year, which I have to say as a parent, I might've made that same choice, but that's a, that's a lost year of education for those kids and same thing for the preschoolers, um, who missed out on in-person learning, learning to play with one another learning to follow directions, learning their numbers and colors and letters as well. So I absolutely anticipate that it's going to be a rough few years as those kids catch up and our schools are going to have to really dig into their best knowledge about early childhood development, early literacy and early numeracy to help help all of our kids get back on track.

Speaker 1: 10:24 I've been speaking with early education and childcare adviser, Laura cone, Laura. Thank you very much.

Speaker 4: 10:31 You're welcome. Thanks for having me. [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.