Beyond those ongoing issues, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the problem into a full-blown crisis.
Hurry up and wait:
Katie McCarthy remembers finding out she was pregnant with her first child.
"I had several friends in the area who said the first thing I needed to do before anything was to get on a waitlist for day care," McCarthy shared.
She said the waitlist was 18 to 24 months long, and that was seven years ago. Since then, the challenges of child care have only worsened.
"We've known about this issue for years, and it just continues to get worse," the now-mother-of-two said.
Turning a bad situation into a crisis:
Child Care Resources Inc. president Janet Singerman said child care is often too expensive for parents and is sometimes hard to turn a profit for those who run day cares.
"It's already a fragile economic equation, but the pandemic has made it a more fragile economic equation," Singerman said.
Singerman said the pandemic took a bad situation and made it a crisis.
It costs about $14,000 a year to send an infant to day care. If a parent were to send their child to day care for the five years leading up to kindergarten, that would total about $70,000. The average in-state tuition to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is nearly $9,000. That means it would cost more to send a child to day care prior to kindergarten than it would cost to send a child to four years at UNC.
Beyond cost, there are staffing issues, too. Child care workers make just $10 an hour and rarely get benefits like insurance, making the workers hard to retain.
Add in the COVID-19 pandemic to those issues and you have the equation for a full-fledged financial crisis in child care.
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"Revenue plummeted because families pulled kids out [due to] health concerns, unemployment and/or remote employment, so revenue for child care plummeted," Singerman said.
Staffing shortages forced Calvary Child Development Center in Charlotte to abruptly close several classrooms, sending parents scrambling.
"It's just a testament to how tough it is out there," McCarthy said.
Money is there to help:
The North Carolina Child Care Stabilization Grants, made possible by funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will support working families with access to high-quality, affordable child care. The grants will also help early care and learning programs with recruitment and retention, enabling them to provide better wages and benefits to teachers, and promoting equity for all —children, parents, and teachers.
All private, licensed early care and learning programs are eligible to apply, including for-profit and not-for-profit, family child care homes and faith-based centers. The grants can enable programs — overwhelmingly women-owned small businesses — to invest in the resources and supports they need to thrive for years to come.
Programs that apply and receive stabilization grants may use the funds for a range of activities including personnel costs; mental health supports; payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, facility maintenance, or insurance; personal protective equipment (PPE); equipment and supplies; and goods or services necessary to maintain or resume child care.
Child care centers have until Oct. 31 to apply for the grants.