Despite states allowing child-care providers to reopen their doors as the spring and summer stay-at-home orders lifted, attendance is still down and many centers have yet to get back into business.
About 35% of child-care centers and 21% of family child-care programs remain closed nationwide as of July, according to the latest data available from Child Care Aware of America released Thursday. Of the providers that are open, attendance and enrollment is significantly lower than it was at the start of the year.
That's due, in part, to state and local health guidelines limiting the number of children allowed in a classroom or facility in order to maintain social distancing. Child Care Aware found that 17 of the 32 states that reported attendance data say they've lost more than 25% of their capacity.
Providers are also struggling with higher operating costs caused by the need to source and purchase additional sanitization supplies and personal protective equipment for employees. Costs for licensed child-care centers have increased an average of 47%, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress. Costs for home-based family child care has increased an average of 70%.
That could become a financial burden for parents, because centers may have to start increasing tuition and fees. About 35% of centers and home-based programs reported in July they already had to increase tuition, according to a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children of more than 5,000 child-care providers nationwide. Another 28% hadn't yet decided.
"Child care was already in a bad place prior to prior to the pandemic," says Lynette Fraga, CEO of Child Care Aware. "This exacerbated price and cost and supply of quality child care."
Additionally, if child-care providers remain closed or are forced to close because of unsustainably high operating costs, that will reduce the number of children that programs can serve and may increase scarcity and drive up cost.
"Without significant public investment in our child-care system, providers are going to have to likely pass along extra costs related to Covid-19 to parents who are already struggling to stay afloat," Fraga says.
Child Care Aware found that in the Midwest, Northeast and South, child care was the highest category of household expenses last year.
Child care is already expensive. Annually, families spend an average of $9,200 to $9,600 per child, Child Care Aware calculates. Although prices vary by state (see the table below), families typically spend more than 10% of their household income on child-care costs for a single child. Single parent households spend an average of 34% of their household income on child care.
It doesn't look like there's any support coming, either: Additional funding to help child-care providers, schools and, ultimately parents, has not materialized. The latest Republican-led relief package, which did include about $100 billion in funding for education and child care, failed to pass the Senate earlier this month. And legislation earmarking $50 billion in funding for child care remains stalled in the House.
Despite the stalled legislation, Fraga urges advocates, parents, child-care providers and even businesses to keep pushing for federal support. "Parents and providers need help urgently now. There is no recovery without child care," she says, adding that many families will not be able to go back to work or return full-time without it.
Here's a look at where child-care costs for infants and toddlers stood before the pandemic started affecting availability and pricing.
Source: Child Care Aware of America
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