COVID-19 burdens local childcare providers

SPOKANE, Wash.– COVID-19 has further burdened the childcare industry that was facing a crisis before the pandemic.

Nicole Sohn has co-owned Journey Discovery Center in Spokane for nearly 10 years. Just a few months ago, they were operating at capacity, caring for 89 children each day. Parents had to be put on a waiting list if they wanted their child to attend the program.

Then COVID-19 gripped our community.

New regulations prevent this center and others from operating at full capacity. So, now Journey Discovery Center has room for just 13-15 kids, according to Sohn. Those spots are prioritized for first responders and essential workers.

Sohn explained that their lifeline has been parents who continue to pay tuition even though their child is at home. But, Sohn knows that’s not sustainable. For many other centers, it’s not even close to possible.

It’s clear to see this pandemic has created tough and uncertain economic situations for so many. That’s something Community Minded Enterprises CEO Lee Williams testified to in an interview with 4 News Now.

Community Minded Enterprises offers multiple childcare programs and works to enhance the industry in Washington. Williams cited statistics from nonprofit Child Care Aware to put the current crisis in perspective.

As of April 10, 77 total childcare centers and programs have closed within the city limits of Spokane, according to Lee. That number includes 21 family home programs, 29 child care centers and 27 school age only programs. Lee said that accounts for about 39% of childcare programs in the city of Spokane.

“That’s fairly remarkable and really concerning,” Williams said.

It’s a dire situation across Washington.

Child Care Aware Washington said in a tweet that COVID-19 has contributed to the closure of 1,303 programs statewide. Those have the capacity to serve 59,000 children regularly.

While many parents work from home and don’t need childcare now, the worry is that when things return to a more normal pace, the centers that closed won’t be able to afford to reopen. Childcare availability might be even tighter than before the pandemic, according to Sohn.

“It’s feared that they will not reopen because of the economic hardship COVID-19 has caused and we will have had devastating impacts on our childcare industry,” Sohn said.

The owners of centers that are still open are facing challenges beyond their bottom line. Sohn said they’re struggling to find enough personal protective equipment to keep employees safe. It’s also challenging to find basic things, like baby wipes and milk.

“We’re buying bleach on an individual by individual basis at this point and you know, we’re being really diligent on seeking out those supplies so we don’t run out,” Sohn said.

Sohn said staff are regularly monitoring children’s health and asking parents to keep their kids home if they’re not feeling well.

Despite so many challenges, these providers are pressing forward. They know the future of these kids and the future of our community is at stake.

“Just like everything else, we’re going to have to get figure out how we move forward,” Williams said. “We’re going to have to be innovative. We’re going to have to to think of new ways to serve children and families.”

Williams said Community Minded Enterprises has started a relief fund to help local childcare centers. You can donate here. Make sure to add a note that you want your donation to benefit childcare resources.

If you’re a first responder or essential worker with a child needing care, you can call 1-800-446-1114 to be connected with resources in your area.

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