Nearly 4,500 local child care centers are closed, some permanently, six months into the COVID-19 crisis, according to a News4 I-Team investigation.
Safety restrictions, reduced enrollment and growing costs have knocked child care businesses out of commission regionwide, according to interviews and records reviewed by the I-Team. Though some operators hope to reopen, a number of local child care businesses said they are operating at a loss and risk closing next year.
Enhanced safety precautions, to ensure social distancing and sanitization of equipment, has required child care facilities to reduce their number of students. The cutbacks have squeezed the providers of savings and required layoffs or temporary closures.
Tracy Jost, owner of Kid’s Campus Early Learning Center in Dunkirk, Maryland, said she recently increased from 50 percent to 70 percent her normal enrollment. But Jost said the reductions are risking her business.
“We’re definitely going to see a loss but we’re hoping we can recover and try to get creative and fight our way through it,” Jost said.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team requested child care licensure records from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Those records show nearly 2,000 licensed child cares have shuttered in Maryland, at least temporarily. Nearly 2,200 were closed in Virginia. Approximately 300 of D.C.’s 477 licensed operators remain closed.
Though some facilities have reopened, some continue to reduce their number of slots for children.
“Those numbers might sound rosy, but they’re not. I don’t think many programs are going to be able sustain themselves into next year,” said Chris Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association.
The federal government’s COVID-19 financial rescue plan in the spring provided billions of dollars in aid and grants to care providers for children. Advocates for the child care industry have lobbied federal lawmakers to include a new round aid of to prevent layoffs and further closures. Negotiations on a new rescue plan stalled in August, with no estimate for when or if they’ll resume.
The potential shortage of child care slots is surfacing at a fragile time, as public schools begin an indefinite period of distance, virtual-learning. The school semester will require tens of thousands of local teachers to resume work, without the promise or backstop of child care for their kids. Other employees in other industries are also expected to resume work-at-home duties as summer vacations end.
Jennifer Qamar, a mother of three, said she was fortunate to find a slot for her kids at the Greenway Learning Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Qamar said a loss of child care could prevent her from holding a job.
“That’s the only way we’ve been able to keep working,” she said.
The I-Team’s review of state health records shows COVID-19 has impacted hundreds of families with relatives who work or attend local child cares. There are 27 confirmed cases in licensed D.C. child care centers. There are 108 in Maryland and 277 in Virginia. The Virginia records show most of the cases are among staff.
Peusch said the case numbers are small and indicate local facilities are succeeding in their safety precautions and in utilizing their COVID-19 personal protective equipment.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.