By: Gongwer Ohio
The strain caused by the coronavirus has exacerbated existing problems of business stability and access equity in child care, providers told U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown Friday.
Groundwork Ohio hosted a virtual roundtable for the Cleveland Democrat to focus on the state of child care as the businesses continue to reopen from the lockdown under strict capacity limitations.
"We have exposed what we always knew as a system built on quicksand," Groundwork Ohio Executive Director Shannon Jones said.
Sen. Brown said the pandemic and the recent protests have demonstrated significant inequalities in the child care system and access to it.
"It's a call for change, and when I think about what's happened in the last four months, this pandemic has really been the great revealer in this country," he said. "It has really shone a light on what we do in child care or what we don't do in child care in this country."
Providers from around the state shared with the senator details of their struggles.
The money provided by the federal government has helped, but with capacity significantly limited because of state health orders, that support needs to be ongoing, said Patty Gleason with Learning Grove in the Cincinnati area.
"I think that COVID has proven that early childhood is vital for the workforce. It's also vital for our children to have a positive early childhood experience," she said. "But it's also proven that this system is a broken system built on sand. We're hoping that after the election you can help us think about how to build a system that supports and is accessible. All of our families should have access to early childhood education."
Ms. Jones and Sen. Brown echoed those concerns about focusing on equity in child care.
"I really do hope that when this virus is in the rear-view mirror, when there is finally a vaccine, that we can do what you all know which is to create a system of child care where it is a public right, a public good," Sen. Brown said.
Child care providers and their employees are struggling despite the help from the government, said Christie Angel, CEO of the YWCA Columbus.
"The pandemic has caused a lot of harm," she said. "Child care providers, they are businesses. I think that gets lost. When we're talking about businesses, it's all types of businesses that we want to see recover and restart. I believe that the child care business owner's voice is not being heard enough."
Misti Norman, with the Heavenly Kids Center for Learning, said providers have been struggling for a while and have been trying to weather the storm but "this is a tsunami."
"We have folks that are going out of business," she said. "Private-owned businesses that have been champions in this field, and for them to go out because of lack of funds, it's just disheartening. Especially when the children are the ones who are suffering from it."
Access to child care is particularly in jeopardy in rural areas, where there may not be other providers around to pick up the slack if one closes, said Peg Tazewell with Knox County Head Start. Her organization got into the business of providing child care when the only two centers in their community that accepted publicly funded child care closed within two weeks of each other 20 years ago.
"In a rural community like mine, there's not other centers that are going to step up and especially serve the birth to two population. That is who we'll lose. And that is the population that we have to care for the most," she said.