Child care a critical issue in getting Northern Nevada parents back to work
Christine and Wade McNally purchased Under the Magic Pine Tree in May 2019 and established it as an early childhood learning center. The center is located at 927 Mitch Drive in Gardnerville.
The coronavirus greatly affected the economy, but the crisis in the child care industry has been a growing concern long before bathroom tissue flew off the shelves. “The child care industry is in crisis and it has been,” said Under the Magic Pine Tree owner and director Christine McNally. “The pandemic has just brought it to the forefront for everyone to take notice.” Under the Magic Pine Tree is one of at least eight daycares and preschools in Douglas County between the Gardnerville Ranchos and Johnson Lane that accepts infants to school age children. The lack of teacher-to-child ratio in each classroom, limited resources and funding — and the impact of the coronavirus — has made it difficult for child care facilities in recent months, causing closures and long waitlists. But it has been a struggling industry for many years, McNally said. “And now with the cost of those things increasing, it has created even more strain,” she said. “Many centers throughout the country have closed and many in-home providers have closed because of it. The need for qualified staff and increased wages in addition to these other cost increases is pushing the industry to its breaking point.” According to The Children’s Cabinet, the Reno-based childcare and resource nonprofit, pre-COVID child care capacity could only meet 35 percent of the demand for care, and staff has been difficult to recruit and maintain. “Many teachers are experiencing high stress burnout and due to shortage of staff, facilities do not have enough staff to fill to capacity. Some are merging to closing classrooms,” said Marty Elquist, Early Education and Development Department Director at the nonprofit. A Carson City childcare facility owner and director, who asked not to be named, shared similar concerns. “I own two child cares in Carson and direct one,” she said. “The problem we are having is getting and retaining staff. I have spots available at both centers but cannot take any more children as I would need take on more staff. We have increased what we would normally hire someone for and with no experience as well. We have raised rates since Jan. 1, 2021, and are definitely still in the normal range.” “Many teachers receive low wages on average of $12 or less per hour, no benefits or retirement,” The Children’s Cabinet’s Elquist added. “As children under the age of five spend an average of 36 hours per week in a child care setting, these early childhood professionals provide an invaluable service for families, and yet wages for child care workers are among the lowest in the U.S workforce.” In 2020, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment released a biennial Early Childhood Workforce index that examines how much each state has progressed on compensation, qualifications and work environments. The report states that between 2016 and 2018 there were no significant changes in early childhood education in at least 44 states, and wages for child care professionals have remained stagnant even though more and more child care workers have bachelor degrees. While the work may be rewarding, many teachers find themselves forced out of the industry because they simply cannot make a living. In a Facebook discussion, conducted in December 2021, one mother and child care provider said she left the industry for this very reason. “I love working with kids and would still be doing it if I could actually make a living,” she said. The median wage of a licensed early childhood education teacher in Nevada is $11.50 per hour or $23,920 per year, according to The Children’s Cabinet. “The biggest issue has been money and hiring staff,” said Wendy Liebler, director of One World Children’s Academy in Reno. “Preschool is not a money-making business. The fact that as a small business and preschool we have made it this far is an amazing feat.” In Washoe County, 23 child care providers permanently closed over a 16-month span, according to data from the Washoe County Child Care Licensing department — 196 licensed providers as of June 2021, compared to 219 in February 2020. It is clear there are many contributing indicators of the child care crisis straining families, providers and society across the country, but the coronavirus added to the blow. The Center for American Progress reported recently that due to closures of entire programs and classrooms amid the pandemic; smaller group sizes to minimize spread of the virus; and decreased enrollment as families choose to keep children home have all had a dramatic effect. In terms of supply and demand, decreased revenue and increased costs of operation at child care facilities have resulted in many providers unable to pay staff and forcing furloughs, layoffs and closures — and leaving many families with no child care options. As vaccination rates increase and more businesses reopen, more families will return to work — and child care facilities will have to accommodate the increase in students. Many, however, are still adhering to the smaller group sizes per classroom resulting in lengthy waitlists. “The waitlist is about 6 months to a year-long, so basically as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, you better call to get on that list,” said a parent in the December Facebook discussion. “It’s very difficult for first time mothers like myself that had no idea about everything that involves daycare.” Child care directors at the Carson City and Reno facilities and Under the Magic Pine Tree said they receive an average of 5-12 calls a day, mostly from parents in need of infant or toddler care. “The number of schools that have closed is staggering,” said Liebler. “I’m saddened parents don’t have more choices in where to send their children.” Gardnerville resident Chelsea Wilson-Doyle is a 28-year-old mother of five who has tried nearly every option she and her husband can to take care of their children and still make an income. “Finding child care within our growing community has become harder and harder,” said Wilson-Doyle. “Especially when you factor in large families like mine. My husband and I tried working opposite shifts, looked into child care costs, Boys and Girls Club, private sitters, all of it. None of it made sense. “It’s a reality right now that many families have to struggle from time to time because they are a ‘one income’ household. But it makes more sense. We would be in serious debt if I tried to find full time work and afford child care for five children.” According to a report from The Children’s Cabinet, average cost for child care in Nevada is between $8,189 to $11,150 per year for one child. Nevada ranks as the least affordable in the nation for the cost of infant care in licensed family child care and the eighth least affordable in licensed centers. “These issues need to be addressed and quickly,” said Gardnerville’s McNally. “A collapse of the early child care industry would affect all industries and the economy.”