‘It’s going to get really bad’: Parents will have a tough time finding child care as industry struggles to find workers

SPOKANE, Wash. — The child care industry was already spread thin before the pandemic. Now, it’s about to get worse as centers are having a tough time finding qualified workers.

This is the latest of many industries having issues finding employees. But, Colleen Condon, the owner of Lilac City Early Learning Center, told 4 News Now this was an issue before the pandemic. It’s just even worse now.

Over the pandemic, the child care industry was struggling, too. It thought it would get hit with a wave of families needing help, but it didn’t. Many parents ended up working from home and watching their kids, too.

However, not every family experienced that.

Some single parents, specifically mothers, had to quit their jobs to stay home with the kids because they couldn’t find child care at an affordable price. If they couldn’t find child care, they couldn’t go back to work.

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Now, it’ll be even more difficult to find child care centers as places have wait-lists due to not finding workers. That’s the case for Condon. Her place is also under construction, trying to get a new room for toddlers to help more families. Even then they wouldn’t have enough room to help more families.

“I get five or six phone calls a day from people looking for tours and quite frankly we can’t even do the tours or tell people when we’ll have the availability for them at this point,” she said.

There are 24 families on their wait-list right now. They’re just in need of more workers and they’re having fewer people apply.

“We were very fortunate that we’d receive as many as 80 resumes for a single job posting,” Condon said of past openings. “In the last few months, we’ve had multiple job postings and have had as little as 12 responses even when we had two jobs posted.”

The industry just can’t hire anyone, either. They need to find qualified people to watch the kids. So, of those 12 applicants Condon received, many of them might not be qualified.

Rebecca Lee, the owner of Green Gable Children’s Learning Center, is experiencing the same thing. She’s had to put many advertisements looking to hire.

“We’ve even paid for some of them. It still continues to be really challenging,” Lee said.

Though the center isn’t short staffed, they need more workers to have more flexibility.

Lee told 4 News Now she’s worried about the fall, when teachers head back to the classroom full-time and need child care. Then, there would be more demand and fewer spots.

She says they’re in need of more support from the state to make sure child care centers stay open.

Money is a big issue for child care centers and families looking for a place. While many families can’t find child care because of affordability, there has been a step forward to fix that. The Fair Start for Kids Act was passed earlier this summer to help make child care more affordable for families by capping co-payments.

To help child care workers, that bill will help centers with retaining workers by offering health benefits.

RELATED: Her Recession: Bill to make child care more affordable passes, helping parents get back to work

However, it’s still not enough for them to keep them going.

“You’re not going to hire a teacher at minimum wage and expect them to be more than a babysitter,” Lee said. “When we’re supporting that kind of necessary growth and development, we really need to make sure that our teachers are of the highest quality. We’re not sitting kids in front of TV sets anymore like they did 25 years ago. We’re really teaching them.”

Fees will be waived for child care centers for some time, though, to help because of the pandemic. There used to be a fee for each slot a center has, according to Lee, and it’d be paid to the Department of Children, Youth and Families. She said those fees were waived for the next few years.

Lee said she would be saving between $1,000 and $1,500 because of that.

However, it’s not going to fix everything, Lee said.

In addition to all that, Condon said hiring and watching kids will get even worse in the coming months.

In years past, Condon said the federal government had a waiver, allowing people to work when half their background checks are cleared. Those employees would just be supervised by another employee.

Starting in October, full background checks will need to be done before people can start working. Condon said that will strain some things while they’re trying to hire, as that could take two to six weeks.

“It’s going to get really bad, and I don’t think anybody’s really prepared for this,” she said.

Condon believes there will be long-lasting impacts with this.

“I think there’s going to be classrooms in centers that are closed while they’re waiting to hire. Entire programs be may shut down because they don’t have enough staff,” she said.

As things progress, Condon is afraid families who want to move to Spokane won’t anymore. She says she receives many phone calls where families want to know if there are openings before they move.

“They’re not willing to move until they know they have a quality early learning facility for their children to be at,” she said. “Right now we don’t even have the capacity to offer them anything.”

So, what can families do now to prepare?

Both Condon and Lee says it’s best to get on a wait-list if they really like a place. That way, they’ll have a place once it’s ready.

Condon added that it’s not a good idea to settle for a center if it has immediate spots open. Make sure to be comfortable with the place before taking the spot, if there is time for that.

Families can also look at the Department of Children, Youth and Families or Child Care Aware Washington to find open spots.