Wednesday, December 9th, 2020.
I left the corporate world to open a child care center in my home. Now, I am drowning from the strain of operating it during COVID-19.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
While my child care center’s doors remain open, a third of my peers in Alameda County have closed. As debts pile up around me, I’m always fighting the fear that I could go under at any time.
Nearly 6,000 family child care providers like me — mostly Black and Brown women — closed their doors in California this year. Many will likely never reopen, jeopardizing the availability of affordable child care for working parents.
Some providers closed from fear of exposing themselves, their staff, loved ones and the families they serve to COVID-19. Others closed because they could not bear the burden of the growing and ongoing out-of-pocket costs.
Additional cleaning, sanitation and masks keep everyone safe at my child care center. Costs add up quickly, especially when caring for school-aged kids all day — hiring additional staff, buying more food, upgrading my internet and purchasing tablets to support distance learning. Providers were already operating on thin margins and cannot handle this much longer.
Nonetheless, as schools remain closed because of COVID-19, I adapted to fill the gap. I invested in technology to ensure kids can participate in distance learning. As the liaison between them and their teachers, the challenge is ensuring they actually learn. By helping kids overcome moments of frustration and discouragement, I help them stay focused on their classwork.
It is challenging to juggle everything. Kids have different Zoom hours with teachers, and schedules change often. For little ones, this impacts the timing of their meals, breaks and naps. When one child runs away from their laptop and another child needs help with a math problem, I have to keep them calm and focused. Parents receive updates on all of this and more, which is no small addition to other demands on my time.
I repeat a mantra to myself — flow like water — as a way of reminding myself to adapt to situations, grow and change. Unfortunately, the pressures my families and I face will not soon improve.
My story is not unique. Our child care system is at its breaking point. Providers have been taking on mountains of risk, and we cannot continue to face these challenges alone. We need the state of California, which is responsible for most of our pay and working conditions, to acknowledge this and adapt, as we have, to the realities of COVID-19.
Thousands of providers have written letters and masked up to safely draw attention to our demands. We need reimbursement of new costs to support children through distance learning — up to a 75% increase on top of our usual expenses. We need financial relief, allowing us to suspend operations after a COVID-19 exposure without risking permanent closure. We need access to funds intended to keep us whole after the state effectively cut our pay because some families keep children home out of caution. The process for getting these funds was promised back in October but still does not exist.
My work matters. It helps families navigate new pandemic-related challenges. With nurses, grocery store workers and teachers among the parents who entrust me with their kids, my work has taken on greater significance. My job makes it possible for them to go to work, and all of these jobs are now considered “essential” under COVID-19.
Family child care providers like me are essential workers too, helping hold our communities together, and it’s time that our elected officials start treating us accordingly.
Jill Burns is a family child care provider and a member of Child Care Providers United in Alameda County.