Child care providers struggling to stay open, but things are looking up

SPOKANE, Wash. — The child care situation in the Greater Spokane Area went from bad to worse due to the pandemic. It was tough for families to get into a child care center, and now it’s hard for those facilities to stay open. However, one center in north Spokane is holding out hope.

“The kids do take my mind off of it so for once I can just turn it off while I’m here, I don’t have to worry,” said Kim Kazmark, the owner of Precious Angels Children’s Center.

The kids are a good distraction for Kazmark. She’s been worrying about not being able to pay the bills to keep the center running, but she’s also worried about staying open.

“I’m worried for my teachers everyday. I’m worried for my students everyday,” she said.

It was a difficult decision for her to stay open, but she did it. She wasn’t about to throw away her life’s work. Kazmark has owned Precious Angels for 23 years.

“We do it because we love it, and I guess we’re just going to be as careful as we can and go from there. That’s all we can do,” she said.

At the beginning of March, the center was thriving. It had 120 kids enrolled and a wait list. Now that’s all gone. When the coronavirus situation started ramping up in mid-March, Kazmark was told to brace for an influx of new kids needing child care. That wasn’t the case. Toward the end of March she said she was lucky if they even had 25 kids a day.

“That’s the saddest part, is not being able to have the activity level that we’re used to,” she told 4 News Now.

Parents were pulling their kids out of child care as they started to work from home. Some lost their own jobs so they didn’t need child care anymore or they couldn’t afford it.

Such a sudden decline made it difficult for them to keep going, and Precious Angels is only one of many.

It’s like the switched flip for the child care crisis in Eastern Washington. Before the pandemic, families were having a tough time finding a place for their kid. Some had to wait months and even years to get into a place.  Now, child care centers have vacancies they didn’t have before, struggling to stay open.

As of May 11, Child Care Aware of Washington said there are 75 centers closed in the city of Spokane right now. That’s down two child care centers that were closed from mid-April.

The organization says centers can temporarily close for a number of reasons including COVID exposure or potential exposure, deep cleaning or running out of essential supplies. The numbers the organization tracks change every day.

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Moving forward it’ll tough to gauge what the need will be.

“One of the biggest challenges, I think right now, is we have a few good ideas about the supply side of child care, but what we don’t know is the demand side,” said Deann Puffert, the CEO of Child Care Aware WA.

Puffert said some parents could be afraid to drop their kids off again because there are still unknowns with the virus. The economic impact on parents could also deter children from going back to the facilities.

There are many impacts this pandemic can have all over the spectrum of child care.

Another issue is a child’s mental health. Kids who were pulled out of child care but will be put back in when things get better, it won’t be the same for them.

“It’s going to be less kids and your best friend may not return. Maybe their favorite teacher doesn’t come back. There’s going to be a lot going on around just sort of emotional well being,” Puffert said.

The organization is working with child care centers and providers to help children and parents with that aspect.

There are new conversations between the organization and others about funding child care centers. Mostly, these places are paying on their own, not having a “third party payer” as Puffert put it.

Schools have taxpayer money to help fund the public school system.

“Do we start to view it as something we invest in so families’ price tag comes down, because there’s a basic investment by the community through a third party payer? Which could be a mixture of taxpayer dollar, business investment, philanthropic investment, etc,” Puffert said. “I think those sorts of things are things we’re going to have to consider as we move forward.”

While those conversations are merely just that right now, Precious Angels knows the path forward is starting to look a little bit brighter .

“We get excited and say ‘Other things are opening up. We’re not the last man standing anymore,'” Kazmark said. “Just even watching out, looking out to Nevada [Street] and seeing the increase in traffic, it gives us hope.”

She’s keeping that hope alive as kids are slowly coming back. Precious Angels now has 40 to 50 kids coming in a day now. Kazmark said they’ve recently received some inquiries, as well.

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