COVID-19 Pandemic Reminds Us of Vital Role of Child Care

In a March blog post, Quality Child Care is Crucial to the Workforce of Today and Tomorrow, we stated that “a shortage of high-quality, affordable child care hinders West Michigan’s talent efforts on two fronts. It not only reduces labor participation rates – it also prevents children from receiving the early education that is essential to lifelong success. The result is real economic cost to our region and our state.”


The COVID-19 era has underlined just how crucial child care is to our prosperity.


Before the pandemic, West Michigan already was a child care desert, where children in need of care outnumber the available slots. After closing K-12 schools across the state, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-16 to ensure access to child care for essential workers. This allowed LARA to flex licensing rules and requirements to meet unseen changes and demands. It also enabled intermediate school districts to refer essential workers to child care providers that remained open during the pandemic.


Child care providers are considered essential workers and were not required to close when caring for children of other essential workers. Yet many either chose to close, perhaps for health and safety reasons, or were forced to close due to financial feasibility. As Michigan begins moving through the phases of the MI Safe Start: A Plan to Re-Engage Michigan’s Economy, it will be critical to ensure that access to quality, affordable child care returns with increased demand from individuals returning to the labor force.


As K-12 schools look out to classes resuming in the fall in a modified or unknown capacity, the need for child care for school-aged children will likely increase. Without care options for children, this could further slow the return to the work for parents and slow efforts to jumpstart the economy with an estimate of 800,000 workers impacted in the fall.


Supply and Demand Challenge

As schools closed and a stay-at-home order was issued in March, parents with the capability began working remotely; others endured partial or full unemployment. With more parents at home and child care only accessible to children of essential workers, the demand rapidly decreased. Child care providers often were unable to remain open when not enough children were enrolled to cover operating expenses.


Now, as the economy opens in phases, not only do providers have to determine if it is financially feasible, but also how to implement new health and safety screenings and requirements. There are many procedural questions to answer in both areas. The larger question is if child care providers will reopen – and what capacity for care will look like going forward, supporting the workforce while ensuring providers are profitable.


Many supports have been implemented or are ongoing across the state and in West Michigan.

In order to continue to offer support for child care providers as business owners, it is critical that attention remains on their economic feasibility, with clear guidance on implementing health and safety guidelines for providing quality care.


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