Childcare woes strain economic recovery

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — As schools wrestle with how and when to safely resume in-person instruction, a new reality is becoming clear: the economy cannot fully recover until parents of young children have a place to send their children while they work.

Parents have struggled for months to balance their work with childcare duties while schools were closed and many daycare centers were not fully open, a balancing act made all the more difficult for parents whose jobs cannot be done from home.

And with new child-to-adult ratios in effect at daycare facilities in Ohio, there are fewer and fewer places for parents who can’t work from home to send their children when schools are closed.

“If the daycares or the schools are closed, you’re more or less closing business because there are no other options for childcare at that point other than for the parents to stay home with that child,” said Joe Patton, director of Ohio Means Jobs – Allen County.

Lima schools plans to resume in-person instruction this fall, while parents will have the option to continue remote learning for their children if they are uncomfortable sending their kids back so soon.

But resuming in-person learning may be difficult if Ohio is still recording more than 1,000 new COVID-19 infections per day, which has led some school districts across the U.S. to consider shortened school days and other alternatives to full-time in-person learning.

That ambiguity complicates the economic recovery, Patton said, particularly in places like Lima where the primary employers are in healthcare, manufacturing and other essential industries.

“Either we’re closed or we’re open,” he said. “There’s not really a lot of in between with this because of the children.”

Rachael Reeder, a supervisor of direct services and childcare for Ohio Means Jobs – Allen County, said she has already seen clients turn down offers for part-time work because they couldn’t find childcare.

Part of the issue, Reeder said, is that childcare centers are trying to maximize the new child to adult ratios by prioritizing slots for parents who work full-time.

“And so the people that work part-time jobs are having to turn down work,” she said.

Cornerstone Early Learning Center in Lima has reduced its enrollment capacity from 120 to 58 to comply with Ohio’s new COVID-19 safety standards.

The daycare remained open throughout Ohio’s stay-at-home order to care for the children of essential workers. There’s now a waiting list of children whose parents are trying to get back to work, even though Cornerstone was able to accept more children since the stay-at-home order ended.

“We get several calls asking us if there’s any news; if they can be put on a wait list; to see whether the ratios are going to be lifted,” said Jenny Winslow, executive administrator for Cornerstone Early Learning Center. “I have to tell them that I’m not sure. I don’t have any answers. … For the most part, parents handle it very well.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

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