The catch-22 of child care availability

Jun 18, 2020

Island Kids Childcare Center closed its south location on Grand Island March 21 after 255 of its 285 children – nearly a 90% – started staying home with their parents. This decrease came as New York State went on PAUSE amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Luckily, Island Kids was one of the 5.7% of U.S. businesses that were eligible for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan in the first round of lending. Which is not surprising considering the childcare industry–despite being an essential service–saw a 33% decrease in employment in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, as of April, Island Kids wouldn’t be able to spend 75% of its PPP loan on payroll costs–a stipulation of the loan–because when its children left it had to furlough 88% of its staff.

Nolan Lacy, 5 at Island Kids Childcare Center on Grand Island
Credit Island Kids Childcare Center

“We had about 60 employees and we’re down to seven,” said Ann MacClellan, owner of Island Kids, about the initial staff cuts she had to make.

If MacClellan doesn’t bring back her staff by June 30, the daycare will no longer qualify for its PPP loan to be forgiven. While she would like to slowly bring her staff back, many of her employees are making more collecting unemployment than they were at the center. MacClellan said it was deterring them from returning.

“It seems to be helpful for people who aren't working, that really can't go to work,” said MacClellan, “But then it's detrimental to people like me who can't get the people to come back to work because they know that they're making more just staying at home.”

Each state requires child care centers to maintain certain ratios of teachers to students in order to keep their licenses. These ratios are based on the age of the children. In New York State, it can range from 1 teacher to 4 newborns all the way up to 1 teacher to 15 children aged 10- to 12-years-old.

The enforcement of this state regulation put Island Kids in a precarious situation.

“I can't use the money towards payroll costs like they want you to use it for because I don't have enough staff, and I don't have enough kids to take care of, to bring all of my staff back,” said MacClellan. “So it's like a Catch 22.”

MacClellan was not the only one worried about the future of her daycare. Kelly Lacey–a registered nurse who works from home assessing auto claims–has a daughter, Violet, who attended Island Kids up until the pandemic. She had lot of questions she needed answered before she felt comfortable letting her daughter return to the center.

“Who are their teachers going to be,” said Lacey. “What size classes are they in? What are the ratios? Like? Are they still getting the same level of care and attention that they would if everything was business as usual.”

While she was worried about the logistics, her main concern was the mandatory teacher-to-student ratio.

“How are you still able to accommodate all of the kids like, I was like, that doesn't add up,” said Lacey. She also has a son, Nolan, who used to attend Island Kids, but now goes to Pre-K at a nearby daycare. Now that Western New York is in Phase III of reopening, Lacey plans on both of her children returning to Island Kids.

While MacClellan’s business is boucing back, the uncertainty of the child care industry left her facing the fear that many business owners have endured throughout this pandemic–closure. 

“Every single thing I've ever done, you know, all of my money, all of my time, my effort my life, is, you know, I was so scared that I was going to lose everything,” said MacClellan.  

This story was modified from it's original form to update parents' current opinions on returning to child care, after initial interviews in April.