By: Madeline Mitchell and Terry DeMio Access article
It's eerily quiet in the front playroom of Nanny's Multi Level Learning Center in Avondale, which is painted with a light blue sky, multicolored flowers and a bright yellow sun.
Down the hall, just two of the center's seven classrooms are being used. Sleepy toddlers 18 months to 2 years old sit around a table waiting for their afternoon snacks. Across the hall, Brenda Harris' preschoolers just woke up from a nap.
One of the unused classrooms is now acting as a storage room, administrator Helaine Wilson says. In the rest of the rooms are overturned chairs, empty white-painted cribs, mini play kitchenettes with plastic apples and strawberries, blank easels, toy blocks stored in cubbies and baby dolls strewn about.
Looking around one of the childless rooms, Wilson sighs. "Everything just gone unplayed with because nobody's here," she says.
The recent explosion of COVID-19 cases has put an already fragile child care system into an even more precarious position. Staffing shortages that so many employers faced following the 2020 pandemic shutdowns did not escape child care centers. And since around mid-December, these shortages have been compounded by the omicron variant, which touched off a flood of COVID-19 cases that has exacerbated the absences of both child care center staff and children.
All of it has an impact on children, who, early childhood development experts say, should get consistent care and education in an enriching environment, whether at home or in child care settings. And on their parents, who need quality child care for their children's development but also so they can work.
What the childcare shortage does to families, children
A recent statewide poll of Ohio voters and parents of young children shows the struggles that parents have had with child care during the pandemic.
43% of working parents in Ohio said they have had to cut back on hours to care for their children in the last few months.
47% of parents with children under 5 said in the last few months, they have had serious problems meeting work/family responsibilities, had serious problems affording child care, or serious problems with child care that have impacted their work.
7 in 10 parents with children under 5 said they are worried about the mental or emotional health of their child/children.
Source: Poll commissioned by nonprofit, nonpartisan childhood education advocacy group Groundwork Ohio and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies; results released in December 2021
Nanny's has been around for 50 years in Avondale, Harris says, and found a home in its current building more than 20 years ago. Harris has worked for the center, which her mother and grandmother ran before her, since 1998. She's about to retire and have Wilson take over.
The center has the capacity for 137 kids, Harris says. But for now, Nanny's is serving less than 30. Last year at this time, Nanny's wasn't serving any children – the center closed for about six months because of pandemic-related staffing shortages. Teachers "didn't feel safe," Harris says.
But the kids still needed somewhere to go while their parents worked, so Harris connected each family with other nearby child care centers before she shut it down.