These stories come from two sisters, Bree Hepker and Molly Stark, who each run an Early Beginnings child care center—one in Atkins and the other in Van Horne.

Challenges child care providers regularly see:

Many child care workers are underpaid and unable to get health benefits due to the extreme cost of coverage. I know that we chose this profession and we do it for love, not money, but child care providers are the most grossly underpaid profession and therefore, is a high turnover and not many people make it a career. There is a shortage of child care workers because the pay rate is so low. Child care is expensive, I hear people say it all the time—even my center’s parents say it. They are right, it is expensive, but it is also expensive to run a daycare center. I feel as if I was called to this progression. I love my families; I love my kids; and I love what I do.

So let’s’ break it down:

Employees of child care centers are paid by the tuition that comes in. The tuition is paid by the parents. There is no other funding source, so if children are not coming–and parents are not paying–there is no income to pay staff and this creates serious challenges. In order to pay the employees more, the tuition costs need to rise. There is not a large profit margin. 75-80% of tuition goes to payroll and the rest goes to rent, utilities, food, insurance, taxes, and daily supplies. If the state or federal government could give some sort of aid per child enrolled annually to child care centers, those funds could help pay for any number of things, and that would free up funds to pay child care workers a higher wage and hopefully could also help in keeping tuition rates down for families.

Challenges child care providers face during the pandemic:

Child care providers have been abandoned during this crisis. I feel as if we are “getting left behind.” All these people talk about front line workers and we are never talked about. I see people working tirelessly to help medical staff by volunteering to make masks and donating, but I see nothing about helping child care centers.

Enrollment has dropped and employees have to stay after children leave the classroom to do a more frequent intensive cleaning. Everyone went into panic buying mode when this started so the food and supplies we need are difficult to find or there is a limit of what we can buy. Supplies are an ongoing issue.

As soon as the crisis began, the governor of Iowa and the Department of Human Services kept urging child care providers, such as myself, to remain open to serve the community. So, you can imagine, the stress is high and we are doing our best to help staff feel assured when they are the ones that deal directly with the children with no barrier if children are carrying the virus due to the parents who are essential workers getting exposed at work. We don’t hear of children with the virus, so it seems probable that they are instead asymptomatic and carriers of the virus. Staff get sneezed and coughed on regularly. No, they don’t want to wear PPE while dealing with the children, they are here because of the love of the children, families, and their job. But the anxiety levels are high and as their boss, I can only reassure and do so much.

Do you know what the most stressful part is? There is no support coming from anywhere for child care providers. It’s like we are just forgotten. Lots of commercials mention all kinds of people whose efforts we are grateful for, but child care was never mentioned, even though DHS, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and families are asking us to remain open to provide services during this crisis. It is hard to justify staying open when payroll alone exceeds the tuition payments coming in. It stinks and some days it’s hard to keep going. We are essential, not expendable. We are real people. But sadly, this is not anything new to child care workers, we have always been essential and always undervalued.

I know the financial strain that child care costs have on parents, but it is unavoidable. The lower wages that staff receive is what is feasible for a child care center to operate on. But if we are so essential, why is it that child care workers are the ones that make little to no money? Have you ever had a staff member tell you they would rather stay home because they would make more money on unemployment with this extra $600 dollars than come to work?  How are we supposed to keep people employed?

We offered families a huge discount by only charging a minimal fee to hold their spot. We knew that if we charged the regular rate the parents would not keep their children home while they were home. And we felt that in order to follow the governor’s request to keep numbers to ten per room this was the most viable option. Running on 30% attendance during this pandemic has been a struggle. Trying to maintain staff without cutting their hours to the extreme, knowing other essential businesses are offering a “hazard” pay, and knowing we are losing money every week during this pandemic so offering “hazard” pay is not feasible. Thank goodness we applied and received the PPP loan, so we are now able to offer the “hazard” pay for 8 weeks, but why just 8 weeks?  I am so extremely grateful for the Small Business Relief Grant which will allow me to remain open through this pandemic. For these things that I’ve gotten during the pandemic please know they are extremely helpful and I know I will not have to close and never reopen, but so many others are not as fortunate.

I want people to stop and think about what will happen when all of the parents need to go back to work and child care is not available? What if centers that couldn’t afford to stay open during this pandemic have to close permanently? Will we become essential then? Wait, we have been all along. DHS, IDPH, and the governor are asking us to stay open for the essential workers, but in doing that is also asking us to go into debt, with no help to get us out. Where is our relief? When will we see this? We saw a possible $25,000 incentives for front like workers, and daycare providers were not on that list.

If the government wants us on the front lines, just like everyone else there, they should be helping us get the needed supplies and food to do the job they are asking us to do.