By Jessica Simms
WALLINGFORD — Child care centers in the state are still feeling the impact of the pandemic over two and a half years later.
The Connecticut Association of Human Services (CAHS) released a report based on a survey sharing the status of Connecticut child care centers. It was made available for early childhood providers in April.
“Providers report the income received from tuition, federal subsidies and state funding is just not enough to keep up with the cost of running an early childcare business. Meanwhile, parents who need to work struggle to find care and pay the tuition which usually exceeds that at state colleges,” according to the report.
According to the report by CAHS, one quarter of the state’s child care capacity is not available due to staffing shortages.
This is due to “low wages, the lack of benefits and stress have increased the historically high staff turnover rate and the rapid increase in entry level wages across the economy has left child care operators struggling,” the report reads.
Two Wallingford centers have noticed some difficulty when it comes to staffing.
Kelly Brennan, the owner of both See Us Grow Childcare and Learning Center locations in Wallingford and Branford, said staffing is her “most difficult issue.”
“It’s very hard because people in the field either have left the field, have moved on to different career paths,” Brennan said. “There’s not a lot of people that have experience.”
Brennan said that when she does receive interest, candidates without experience are looking for pay that is “way out of the salary range.”
“You can only pass on so much cost to parents and trying to keep turn over low, we’re trying to do whatever we can to get people in while it is still accommodating the people here, so financially it’s been really tough, but it’s also been really tough because you obviously want to have qualified people,” Brennan said. “I always say I want teachers here that I would leave my own children with, so I’m not going to just hire someone for the sake of a body.”
Katherine Brandt, director of Kids Care Child Development Center, 951 North Main Street Extension, has also lost staff over the course of the pandemic.
“We’ve definitely had quite a few people either leave for medical issues, the unknown of COVID or simply for the fact of unemployment benefits,” Brandt said.
Rising cost of child care
Despite not wanting to, child care center owners had to raise the cost of child care to keep up with payroll costs and inflation. According to the report by CAHS, child care tuition is a household’s first or second highest expense.
“This has implications for the providers who struggle to operate small businesses, and for the ability of parents to access affordable early care so that they can work, support their families and contribute to the Connecticut economy,” the report reads.
Brennan said she had to raise tuition back when everyone returned in person in June 2020 after closing when the pandemic first hit in March 2020.
“I know parents work hard for their money so I’m trying to do increases as little as I can,” Brennan said.
Right now, with the cost of minimum wage increasing and trying to find qualified staff, Brennan said she projects that they may need to increase tuition again, which is something she tries to avoid.
“The thing is though a lot of parents still have to work so I think for parents trying to maintain their jobs while trying to keep their children in child care while being able to afford it is a huge struggle,” Brennan said.
Brandt said at Kids Care Child Development Center they typically raise tuition annually.
“There has been a struggle in regards to financial with everything else going on and parents also don’t want to have to pay an increased rate like that, but you have to factor in everything in regards to payroll and financing, so it’s tough to juggle around right now,” Brandt said.
In the report, CAHS stressed the importance of child care as a public good.
“If we want to keep our young adults in the state, and attract a young and vibrant workforce to Connecticut, then we need to value early care and education as a public good, give parents the opportunity to be financially secure in our state and make CT once again a place that working people see as a great place to raise their families,” according to the report.
Brandt said she has noticed the state government working to make things better for the overall community.
“They’re working toward better things for the community as well as for the children,” Brandt said. “It’s just a matter of getting it all in place and intact.”
As time goes on, Brennan is hopeful that more qualified people will want to join the child care workforce to help make it more enjoyable for both child care providers and families.
“I really take pride in great child care and I want parents to obviously feel like this is an extended family for them so to me that’s always been my main goal,” Brennan said. “An extension of family and for parents to feel that.”