OREGON -- There’s a major issue child care centers are facing that’s become very common during the COVID-19 crisis: not enough staff.
Some said there's a lack of applications coming in, and there's an urgent hunt to find quality people to work.
The Eugene Family YMCA’s Senior Director of Youth Programming, Holly Kriz-Anderson, said they have a waitlist for each of their programs, and 642 families are waiting.
“Our kid numbers, because of lack of staffing, are probably down a third of what they normally would be,” Kriz-Anderson said. “You can say that the overarching umbrella would be COVID. Because of that, our group numbers are smaller.”
Some families have expressed frustration about getting put on a waitlist, but Kriz-Anderson said her staff is doing the very best they can, as the YMCA gets calls all day long.
“We've tried to come up with everything we can think of to entice people to apply for jobs,” Kriz Anderson said.
KEZI also checked in with the Willamalane Park and Recreation District to see how they’re holding up. Youth Programs Coordinator Caitlin Esping said finding enough staff to safely run their programs has been a major hurdle.
“Like many other providers in our area, that's probably the largest challenge that we're facing in providing more spots of care for families,” Esping said.
At Willamalane, their after-school care programs currently have 214 children enrolled with 96 waitlisted or at a delayed site. Their early start programs have 57 children enrolled with 16 on the waitlist. Willamalane’s preschool programs have 34 children enrolled with 45 waitlisted for programs delayed due to staffing.
“Right now our top priority is finding quality staff so that we can open our childcare programs,” Esping said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Willamalane has offered child care programs both independently and in partnership with Springfield Public Schools.
Cody Brockelmeyer, CEO of the YMCA of Douglas County, said the child care shortage has definitely been felt in Douglas County.
“Finding appropriate facilities for child care can be extremely cost-prohibitive, especially as rent continues to increase,” Brockelmeyer said. “One of the most important challenges is to continue partnering within our communities to find donated or low-cost facilities that still meet licensure requirements. Our YMCA works hard to achieve and maintain licensure, which gives us the ability to partner with social services that might benefit under-resourced families. That's important to us.”
He said another issue is wage compensation.
“Balancing the high overhead of running a child care location is difficult when we want to keep tuition as low as possible for families, but still compensate our teachers as much as possible,” Brockelmeyer said. “Having ratios of one teacher for every four children (infant age) or one teacher for every 10 children (preschool age) makes for a pretty tricky math problem.”
Amy Hanna, owner of Hanna’s Helping Hands Daycare, shared her thoughts.
“I get inquiries for care every day honestly,” Hanna said. “It's kind of an ongoing daily thing that people are asking. The unfortunate part is most care is needed for kids I dont have space for."
Hanna said the shortage is unfortunate. She said many providers who stayed open have struggled financially. Others who were forced to shut down have been unable to open back up. Hanna said she’s been waiting for about a month regarding grant money she applied for.
“Individual resources would be important; looking at each provider's needs and what would benefit them the most would be super helpful,” Hanna said. “Everything is looking at the whole picture.”
Hanna said the more kind, patient and understanding we are will help everyone get through these challenging moments.
“It’s so hard in these times we’re in right now to be able to give others what they need just as much as we’re having a hard time receiving what we need,” Hanna said.
Esping said families are understanding of the challenges they’re facing, but there are a lot of emotions.
“Parents are facing a lot of pressure right now with transitions going on with their work or challenges that they're having finding work or care,” Esping said.
Springfield resident April Philbrick is a mother and former child care provider. She shared the message she wants leaders to hear.
"I would ask them to really invest in our children," Philbrick said. "These centers need help. Beyond my own frustration, our kids are being left behind.”
She said she's not surprised by the shortage, after the mandates and changing restrictions.
"I left my early learning role due to mandates, and now I too am in search of child care and without a job," Philbrick said. "I only have a six-hour window while my son is in school to work without having child care and a car that's too old to be able to Grubhub or Uber."
As part of President Biden’s Build Back Better framework, the goal is to provide access to affordable child care and to provide universal, high quality and free preschool for every 3-and-4 year old in America.
The priority remains to find quality staff who truly care about working with children, not just for a paycheck.
“Our staff, whether it's in these early learning rooms or after school programs -- they really are doing their best," Kriz-Anderson said.
Below are links to apply to various job opportunities: