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New survey shows 62 percent of SC is a ‘child care desert’ due to COVID-19 closures

Updated: Sep. 1, 2020 at 7:25 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new survey is shedding light on child care concerns parents face as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The “Build it Back Better” survey report was conducted by the South Carolina Early Childhood Advisory Council, the United Way Association of South Carolina, and South Carolina First Steps, with the support of the Alliance for Early Success.

Close to 2,500 parents and caregivers responded, representing 45 of the state’s 46 counties.

The survey shows most South Carolina parents are unhappy with their current child care options.

Right now, 62 percent of South Carolina is considered a child care desert, and 31 percent of the state’s licensed child care providers remain closed.

South Carolina First Steps says our state’s economy can’t get back to normal if parents do not have child care.

“It’s a hard look at how many of us are still struggling,” Megan Weis, who is a mom, explained.

She and her husband both work full time and have had to adjust their schedules to care for their two young boys.

Weis says her 3-year-old is now enrolled in an early learning center and her 7-year-old son will be attending Lexington-Richland Five’s hybrid model. However, she still has to figure out who will care for him and help with his school work the three days he’s learning from home.

“With many schools opening only virtually or with the hybrid model, parents still have to figure out how to supervise their younger learner,” Georgia Mjartan, executive director of South Carolina First Steps, said.

She says nearly 60 percent of parents and caregivers noted on the survey that they’re experiencing stress and anxiety around child care.

“Families who may have used their emergency FMLA to take off work to care for children‚ that’s limited time. That’s 12 weeks maximum, if they were even eligible,” Mjartan said. “Families that became unemployed and are now no longer receiving that support of additional unemployment, they’re needing to return to work. So we know that the safety nets and those systems that worked initially, they’ve now run out, and we’ve got to do more.”

Mjartan says most child care centers that are open are operating at half capacity, and it’s a struggle for them to meet their payroll. While most parents are choosing to keep their kids at home now, that’s not sustainable in the long run. And when parents want to return to a child care center, that option may not be available.

“Without public subsidy to reopen our center-based child cares and also our smaller home based child care, we’re not going have the infrastructure in our state that we need,” Mjartan said.

As for Weis and her family, they’re encouraging lawmakers to put more resources and funding into child care options.

“It’s important for the kids,” she said. “It’s important for the economy, and it’s important for the family.”

The survey specifically focused on the needs of parents with children under the age of 5. More than half of these parents say they are concerned about their child’s development, which experts say could have major long term effects.

SC First Steps says it will watch the child care relief funding discussions in Washington closely. Once that money is approved, they say they’ll work with state leaders to make sure it gets to the child care facilities that need it.

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