Published Date: 03/19/20
In this time of crisis with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak sweeping the country and the world, nobody has been more abandoned by local, state, and federal authorities than our network of family childcare providers.
Family childcare providers make up a huge segment of the total daycare and preschool population in the United States. It’s estimated by the National Survey of Early Care and Education that there are 1 million paid providers caring for more than 3 million children from 0-5 in their homes. Over 10 percent are licensed or register with their state or receive public funding of some kind.
For a number of reasons, the population of family childcare providers is rapidly shrinking - 54,000 shuttered between 2011 and 2017. One of the most obvious reason is the extraordinarily low pay. Childcare workers have a median annual salary of just $21,170. Only one-quarter make more than $25,490 annually.
Yet, family childcare providers are the lifeblood of our childcare network and are a crucial component of our economy. Without them, those 3 million children have nowhere to go. Parents simply can’t work without childcare.
The coronavirus outbreak has affected few people more profoundly than these essential workers. According to the New York Times, childcare workers are more at-risk than paramedics, dentists, and flight attendants for contracting COVID-19. They are risking their lives and the health and safety of their families by welcoming children into their homes. They are caring for the children of doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who are fighting the infections daily, not knowing if coronavirus will be brought into their own homes.
In nearly every state, childcare providers have been told to stay open. In some cases, they’ve been told to increase capacity and ratios, taking in more children and having less staff. While, of course, there are the obvious problems with this directive - those laws are designed to keep children safe, and providers simply can’t with higher ratios and more children - there are the less obvious problems. A childcare provider’s insurance only covers them for the amount of children they are licensed for. If they take additional children and something happens, they are no longer covered, even if that directive came from the state. An enormous risk with little reward.
On top of that, there’s the spread of the coronavirus that’s of concern. Could a childcare provider be held liable if an asymptomatic child spreads the virus to another child in their care and family member dies? We’d hope not, but in a litigious society where rules for providers are changing daily, it’s not out of the question. Over and over we’ve heard that social distancing is needed to help “flatten the curve” but tell a room full of 3-year-olds to stay 6 feet apart and see what happens.
Family childcare providers have more than their businesses on the line here - they have their homes on the line. We spoke with two Massachusetts-based providers who said their husband’s have recently lost their jobs. Income from their childcare business are the only thing paying the mortgage right now. If they shutter, they have nothing. Most family childcare providers are self-employed, which means no access to unemployment.
A Massachusetts petition to shut down childcare amassed nearly 24,000 names and was successful, with Governor Charlie Baker closing all programs as of Monday, March 23rd through April 6th. The shutdown allows providers who collect subsidy payments to continue to receive them, but makes no other provisions to remunerate childcare providers.
Our childcare providers have been deemed essential while being treated as expendable.
NAEYC and other nonprofit leaders in the early childhood education industry have demanded that congress immediately pass an economic stimulus for childcare providers. We call on all to support this, as well as individual state governments to issue addition financial relief, particularly to the family childcare segment who do not have the same protections that centers do.
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