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Greenville Business Magazine

Child Care Looms As Critical Factor in Workers Returning to Jobs

Jun 17, 2020 03:29PM ● By David Dykes

By Cindy Landrum

Access to affordable child care was already a problem in Greenville County before the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Henry McMaster didn’t force child care centers to close. However, businesses shutting their doors, schools going online, and parents working from home had a significant impact on enrollment and revenue.

The Greenville County Council’s decision to earmark $1.7 million of the $91.3 million in Covid-19 relief funds the county received could provide a crucial lifeline to an industry that will play a key role in reopening the economy and getting workers back to work.

“That $1.7 million will be the largest single investment County Council has ever made toward child care in the 20 years I’ve been here,” said Greenville First Steps Director Derek Lewis during a “Community Matters: Child Care in the Wake of Covid-19” webinar sponsored by the Greenville Chamber. He expects the money to go to every licensed child care provider and some registered providers in Greenville County to help cover coronavirus-related expenses.

Lewis said more than half of Greenville County child care providers are either closed or don’t believe they have the money to make it through August. 

Before the pandemic, about 20,000 children were in child care in Greenville County. If half or more of the providers closed, 10,000 to 12,000 children would no longer have access to child care, Lewis said.

“That puts a huge burden on our families to return to work and also have adequate care for their children while they return,” said Lewis, who added the need for more child care is something the Chamber has had as a priority for more than a year. Even before the pandemic, dozens of Greenville County neighborhoods had fewer than one licensed child care slots for every 25 preschool-aged children.

Typically, the YMCA of Greenville serves 12,000 children each week in summer day camps at its five branches, said Julie Hollister, the YMCA’s associate director of youth and family services. Because of social distancing and safety considerations, the capacity each week this summer is 400 children.

“The families that are being served are very grateful that these services are open,” she said. “The panic and fear over child care in our community is real. These parents have to work, and they’re scared for their employment. For those we’re able to serve, we’re seeing a real positive impact within those families.”

Hollister said the YMCA has implemented safety precautions and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at each of its centers, including health screenings and temperature checks at each of its centers. Support staff cleans and sanitizes all the center’s areas after groups transition from one place to the next. Also, the YMCA sent supply lists to parents so that children don’t have to share.

At the YMCA Judson Community Center, pool noodles are used to keep children from getting too close to each other, said Center Executive Director Stephanie Knobel.

Lewis said because child care centers can’t meet the demand for child care, Greenville First Steps will launch an intentional effort to recruit family home child care providers, which are people who provide the care at their homes. First Steps wants to train them on how to do that safely, he said. First Steps’ goal is to have 40 new providers by the end of next summer, he said.

“As families are deciding whether to send their kids back to formal child care or back to school, sometimes it’s the number of children or people in one place that makes them nervous,” Lewis said. “Having a strong network of people caring for children in their homes should help ease some anxiety families may have and help them get back to work.” State law family home care providers to care for six children, including their own.

Greenville First Steps also partnered with United Way of Greenville County and Home Grown to launch an emergency fund for home-based child care providers in 15 South Carolina counties, including Greenville. Home Grown is a national collaborative of funders committed to improving quality and access to home-based child care. The fund provided $1,000 grants to every registered in-home child care provider in Greenville County to cover lost revenue or increased costs caused by Covid-19, Lewis said.

“Child care generally doesn’t have a huge profit margin, so if you lose 5 percent of your kids, you will not make budget that month. Child care providers that remained open were losing 25 percent to 50 percent of their kids,” Lewis said. “Child care providers must decide whether to stay open and run at a loss or close.”

That’s why the $1.7 million earmark for child care providers from the County Council is so important, Lewis said.

“A $10,000 grant to a child care provider will make the difference in whether they are in business in September,” he said.