CA child care system at risk of collapse, UC Berkeley researchers warn

california child care covid-19
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A study by UC Berkeley researchers shows that child care providers in California are struggling financially amid the pandemic, with some taking on personal credit card debt to keep their programs afloat.

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Without an injection of public funding, California’s child care system is at risk of collapsing under the strain of COVID-19, according to a report released July 22 by UC Berkeley researchers.

The report, released by campus’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, or CSCCE, reveals that child care providers are heavily impacted by both health risks and financial uncertainty.

Using an online survey, the researchers collected responses from more than 950 child care providers. About 40% of respondents work at child care centers, while about 60% are home-based child care providers.

This report was a follow-up to a previous CSCCE report released in May, which surveyed more than 2,000 child care providers. Survey respondents reported difficulties obtaining cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for staff, as well as increased financial challenges and a lack of clear regulatory guidance.

By contrast, the new report aimed to capture the impact of the reopening process on the child care system. A key finding of the report is that the reopening process has exacerbated financial difficulties.

Of the respondents, 80% believed their businesses would not survive a closure, and 34% of home-based child care providers have taken on personal credit card debt to fund their programs, according to the report.

“With a lot of providers, they’re just not taking a paycheck so they can keep the business running,” said Sean Doocy, a CSCCE research associate and one of the report’s authors. “That all means that it’s on individuals to keep this industry afloat.”

The survey responses reveal a variety of causes for the increased financial challenges, including loss of customer income, decreased operating capacity to meet social distancing guidelines and the cost of purchasing cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

Even with a decreased capacity, some respondents expressed skepticism about whether social distancing is feasible with young children, with about a third saying they would not be able to adhere to official guidelines. Most of the open child care centers surveyed also reported staff not working because of health concerns or responsibilities in taking care of their own children.

Doocy emphasized that a key finding of the report is that “without more public funding, the California child care industry will continue to collapse,” adding that many providers were operating with thin margins before COVID-19.

Dramatic public investment is needed to keep California’s child care industry operating in both the short term and the long term, Doocy said.

According to Doocy, the effects of the state’s child care system declining will be felt by more than just providers and families who need child care — some of whom sign up for child care waiting lists years before having children.

“Whether you are a parent with children or whether you are a provider, or whether you are just in the general public, hoping that the economy rebounds, I think the whole country has a stake in making sure the child care industry survives,” Doocy said.

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.