As a mom, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to find and secure childcare. As a business leader in Delaware, I’m seeing how that common challenge is impacting our economy.
In my post as executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, I’ve seen how our childcare crisis impacts many facets of our community.
For working parents with kids under 5, the struggle can be constant. Need care for your infant? Prepare for waitlists that will span until they are a toddler. Business owner looking to hire? Good luck finding applicants who can find care. It’s a cyclical, entangled challenge that requires some big changes.
Before my daughter was born, she was already on seven different waitlists for childcare. Nearly five years later, she’s still on three of them. We juggled nanny care between three different nannies in six months, during which time my husband and I needed to file for a business license, since we had become employers in the eyes of the law, culminating in a hard lesson that we were unable to claim the childcare when filing taxes because it was considered payroll.
Delaware families should not have to go through those levels of anxiety to provide quality care for their young ones, and yet it’s happening everywhere. Today, far too many people in Delaware are facing hard choices and uncertain futures for their young kids and families. Around Sussex and Kent counties, the problem is magnified and commonly referred to as a “childcare desert.”
In a new study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (in tandem with a range of Delaware partners) revealed that Kent and Sussex counties, despite their population growth, have just one-fifth the licensed programming capacity compared to New Castle County.
In the Quiet Resorts, small-business owners are feeling the crunch. Those with young kids themselves have their work-life balance thrown off track as they struggle to find consistent, affordable care. Their workforce is constantly in flux, and flexibility is mandatory to keep staff. And as Mike Quaranta, head of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce said, “Our state’s youngest citizens are caught in the middle.”
Recruiting talent to run our stores, hotels, health facilities, restaurants and beyond is becoming an untenable challenge. People — and women especially — are leaving the workforce in droves because they have nowhere to send their kids. Recruiters are telling me this personally, and it is backed by national data reflecting the lowest percentage of women in the workforce since 1988.
Remember, childcare facilities are businesses themselves. They are feeling the staffing crunch as hard as anybody. Due to shortages, they have had to shorten school days, amend school weeks for teachers, and have closed classrooms, serving fewer families than their current capacities.
Delaware needs to prioritize early care as a community-building pillar. That should include deeper investments, and an evaluation of current structures keeping it from growing and being accessible to all.
As parents, families, communities — business and otherwise — we must recognize that child care is a valuable and integral component of a strong and vibrant economy.