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Child care centers facing staffing shortage force parents to line up for care, miss work

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 11:30 AM EDT
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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Staffing shortages at child care centers across South Carolina are making parents’ day-to-day lives even more unpredictable.

“I’ve been in the child care industry for almost 17 years now, staffing has always been something you have to stay ahead of,” SC Association of Early Care and Education President Tricia Sheldon said. “But it has never been that we are turning children away and the classrooms aren’t full.”

Parents like Paige Faison worry that if they are not one of the first people in line, they will be turned away and either have to find an alternate child care plan, bring their kids to work or take the day off.

“I get up at 5 a.m., I try my best to get here anywhere between 6 a.m. to 6:20 a.m. just to have a spot available,” Faison said.

The line to get into La Petite Academy in West Columbia starts forming around 6 a.m. despite doors opening at 6:30 a.m.

When Faison arrived at 6:20 a.m. on Monday, she was too late.

“We have to basically get up as early as we can...just to have a spot available. They send us texts at night telling us what’s available. I was just told that they are maxed out so one of my kids can’t go,” she said.

She said La Petite was able to fit her kids in at 8:30 a.m., but she needed to be at work by then.

“Now my job just told me, ‘hey, this is still being documented no matter what you’re going through,’ so I’m still at risk of losing my job and then I won’t even need childcare. So what am I supposed to do?” she said.

According to the SC Department of Social Services, 97 percent of child care centers in the state are open, meaning only a small percentage remained closed during the pandemic. A spokesperson for DSS said like other industries, the main reason for the waitlists and lines is a staffing shortage.

Sheldon said a large reason facilities in South Carolina were able to stay open was through the grants provided by the agency. However, she said three percent of closures can contribute to the high demand when some facilities were able to take 75-100 children each.

“We as an industry are hurting,” Sheldon said. “We would love to serve every child that comes to us, every parent that calls looking for a spot. We would love to say yes. And that’s every provider that I know,” she said.

Sheldon echoed that it’s not just the child care industry that is suffering now, but she said what happens in her sector impacts every other part of the economy.

“People can’t accept those jobs if they can’t find childcare and we cant take care of their children if we can’t find qualified staff,” she explained.

In a statement, a spokesperson for La Petite Academy said it is harder to hire for a child care facility than other sectors but they are working on it.

“We know how important high-quality child care is for families, and we’ve proudly continued to serve the community with excellence for years. Like other industries, we’ve been experiencing staffing constraints at some locations. With support from our corporate recruiters, we have redoubled efforts to source candidates and hire new team members as quickly as possible,” Director of Communications for La Petite Academy, Lydia Cisaruk wrote in an email. “As a licensed child care provider, we must ensure team members complete all requisite background checks and training requirements. It can take several weeks before a newly hired team member is able to work in a classroom,” she added.

But for Faison, several weeks without consistent child care is risky. She doesn’t blame La Petite for the daily lines but worries if this keeps up she will lose her job for good.

“I don’t know how many days of work I’ve missed because of going through this for the daycare,” she said.

If someone is struggling to afford child care, DSS says they do offer a voucher for families in need.

The link to apply or to ask questions can be found here.

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