The effectiveness of North Carolina’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be measured by how it supports families and children in staying healthy and safe and how it minimizes the economic harm to our families and communities from necessary public health measures.
The early childhood sector, which has been deemed an essential service by the governor, is on the front lines of responding to COVID-19 by providing child care to other essential workers. It also will be an essential part of the recovery and should increasingly be valued for its critical role in serving families in communities across the state and promoting the broader goals for health, educational attainment, and well-being.
For those child-care centers that remain open, it is critical that child-care workers are supported with hazard pay and personal protective equipment to keep them safe. At the same time, child-care providers serving those who receive child-care assistance must be reimbursed at a closer to true cost for delivering quality care, which in the near-term should bring providers below the state average to at least that level of reimbursement.
Families in low-wage work also will continue to need access to child-care assistance and should not be asked to pay 10 percent of their income in co-payments. Even in good times, that policy was counter-productive to supporting families in making ends meet.
For child-care centers that have closed, state policymakers must take a different approach that looks toward supporting their long-term sustainability. In a recent survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 32 percent of respondents from North Carolina child-care providers said their businesses could not re-open after two weeks of closure without public support.1
North Carolina can’t afford to lose child-care centers or in-home day cares. Nearly half of children already live in communities considered child-care deserts for having too few options for child care.2 When people are able to return to work, being able to access quality affordable child care will be critical in supporting employment goals while also providing long-term continuity and stability for children’s healthy development.
Data available on currently closed child-care centers show that the impact of closures is statewide and will impact the accessibility of programs for families. Across North Carolina, 43 percent of child-care centers and family-home day cares were closed as of April 14. The state could lose 735 child-care centers or family-home day cares if survey respondents’ concerns about reopening are realized.
The county trends show an even more striking picture. Forty counties saw more than half of their child-care centers or family-home day cares close in April. Only Person County had fewer than 10 percent close, while nine counties — Avery, Caswell, Cherokee, Clay, Jones, Montgomery, Polk, Yadkin, and Yancey — saw more than 80 percent of their child-care providers close.
In counties where more than 50 percent of young children live in child-care desserts, the average closure rate was 47 percent.