COVID-19 highlights Tennessee's child care troubles

Johnson City Press • May 19, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Child care already was a tough enough challenge for working parents before the novel coronavirus pandemic, given expense and availability. Once schools turned pupils out in March to limit exposure, that quandary was magnified.

Parents with younger children suddenly found themselves with a need for care and supervision, and many likely had not budgeted for that instant expense. While some parents may have been able to work from home, many essential workers did not have that option.

Throw in concerns about the increased probability of COVID-19 transmission in such dense settings as child care centers — that’s why kids were home from school in the first place — and you have a real catch 22.

As Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian reported in Sunday’s edition, several local daycare centers have stayed open through the crisis. Even with the increased demand, they experienced significant declines in their enrollment, though, most likely because of the aforementioned apprehensions.

To mitigate those concerns, centers implemented such procedures as temperature checks and social distancing at check-in, while doubling down on thorough cleaning.

More and more parents are returning to work as Tennessee lifts restrictions — the latest transition allowing full restaurant capacity. Daycare centers are expecting census increases as a result, but only among families comfortable with group settings.

We’ve lost count on how many lessons and takeaways this pandemic has offered, but this is a big one. This country was just not prepared to cope with this burden.

But the situation merely highlighted and exacerbated a pervasive problem. Gone are the days when low- and moderate-income families easily could manage on one income, and single parents have never had that option. When trusted relatives and friends are not available — often the case — parents must turn to expensive measures for care or lose income by staying home.

As we reported in October, a study reported 98 percent of parents surveyed in the Tri-Cities area said inadequate child care hurt their work productivity or opportunities. Parents cited difficulty finding quality child care, affordability, and a lack of care for evening shifts and weekend work. Many had to leave jobs, turn down promotions or skip training and educational opportunities. The report put the dollar figure on lost earnings, production and revenues at $43 million in the upper eight counties alone. We’re betting a new survey amid the COVID-19 situation would reveal a much greater impact.

Legislative solutions to Tennessee’s child care access needs are in order, including a preparedness plan for situations of increased demand.

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