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Pandemic spotlights child care industry stressors

Posted at 6:57 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 07:57:50-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Nebraska has one of the highest employment rates for parents with young children in the country. Seventy-five percent of young kids live in homes where all available parents work. To make that happen many rely on child care.

"Child care is such a vital part of our community for our communities to thrive," said Nikki Wilson who owns TenderAcres in La Vista. She says they had to adjust hours and take advantage of loans and assistance as enrollment dropped. One organization she worked with to find resources is the Midwest Child Care Association.

"The pandemic changed things but change is inevitable so we took that change, embraced it, and have made it our own," Wilson said.

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute conducted two surveys during the pandemic to see how child care providers were faring.

"They told us they were under incredible stress already in March. Stress that was economic —they were already losing enrollment. Stress that was about health — they were worried about their own health and the health of their employees. And they were very worried about information," said Kathleen Gallagher, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.

The stress continued. "Over half of the providers reported in the second survey that they were feeling at least some symptoms of depression as we know it," said Gallagher.

State Senator John Stinner is the chair of the unicameral's appropriations committee. He introduced Resolution 390. The report worked off the Buffett Early Childhood Institute's studies to assess the industry.

"The idea is really putting people back to work and what are the barriers for those folks to go back to work," said Stinner.

They've found that 231 licensed providers have permanently closed during the pandemic. Ninety-one percent of counties are deemed to have a shortage of quality child care. Sen. Stinner said there are short term needs related to the pandemic, but he hopes this creates conversation about long term issues like better pay in the industry.

"If Nebraska is going to be a great place to live you have to have childcare and frankly towns, cities, regions that get the child care right, they're going to be able to attract that young workforce," said Stinner.

Experts in the industry say there have been a number of public and private partnerships and funding opportunities that have grown out of the pandemic, and they want them to continue moving forward. The Nebraska Child Care Referral Network, for example, helps link families to available care.

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