Tina Floersch | Unsplash
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained health care and crashed the economy. A report Thursday outlined another major casualty: child care providers.
Statewide, as of mid-May, two out of five licensed childcare providers in the state had closed due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, states the report, produced by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) drawing on data collected by the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). While many are projected to reopen if the virus tamps down and the economy begins to ramp up, that could take time.
In 19 of the state’s 72 counties, more than half of licensed providers had shut down as of May. In Milwaukee County the impact was less severe, but still dramatic, with nearly one-third of all child care facilities closed.
The Milwaukee closures left the county with just 888 providers — and slightly fewer than half were licensed family providers, limited to caring for eight or fewer children.
“Meanwhile, more than half of the 399 providers listed as closed were licensed group providers, which serve larger numbers of children,” the WPF report states, “so the actual impact on available child care slots was likely even greater.”
Statewide, those larger-capacity providers have been the hardest hit: As of May, 54% of licensed group providers were closed, says the report.
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A primary reason that child care facilities closed was due to loss of clients — parents who lost jobs and so didn’t need and could not afford child care, for example, or who were now working at home but opted out of child care because it was possible and also to save money.
While the loss of child care resources is alarming, it’s not necessarily permanent. Although not included in the report, DCF has projected mainly based on anecdotal information that a segment of the closed facilities are likely to reopen as demand increases.
Reopening child care providers will be important to making it possible to reopen the state as a whole, according to the Policy Forum report: “As more businesses reopen and greater numbers of employees return to onsite work, the availability of child care becomes even more important to a functioning economy.”
A $51.6 million federal block grant to support childcare providers is helping to bolster the state’s child care resources, the report states. To date, however, more than 90% of the money has been allocated, while a third round of applications is closing. The grants “might only represent the beginning of what is needed to ensure an adequate supply of high-quality child care for Wisconsin families going forward.”
Meanwhile, if child care facilities can’t reopen, competition for a shrinking number of child care slots will rise, the report notes.
Education will also suffer: High quality child care “presents an opportunity for children to learn and socialize with their peers, something that may have been lacking during the pandemic, and the loss of high-quality providers in particular could have a damaging impact on school readiness and the overall well-being of children.”
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