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An opportunity to make North Carolina’s child care programs a real priority

August 3, 2021
By: Rob Thompson

High-quality child care helps children get off to a strong start while ensuring parents can go to work and support their families. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has undermined this already fragile system as revealed by a new survey of North Carolina child care programs funded by the Blue Cross NC Foundation.

The responses illustrate the resiliency and dedication of child care providers through the ongoing public health emergency, but also paint a troubling picture for the future. Unlike many other states, North Carolina did not mandate the closure of child care centers during the first several months of the pandemic. As a result, providers largely remained open, citing the need to care for the children of healthcare heroes and other frontline workers. Financial interventions from the state buoyed providers at key moments to ensure they kept their doors open to the communities they serve.

The survey nevertheless paints a concerning picture for the future of the state’s child care industry. More than one in five North Carolina child care providers (21%) say they are now at serious risk of permanently closing within six months without additional help. This comes at a time when many parents are making plans to return to in-person work environments and will rely on child care services being readily available. If additional policy interventions and financial assistance don’t come through soon, these providers may not remain in business – something that would have far-reaching negative consequences across several sectors.

Of the more than 1,800 licensed child care centers or family child care home operators that completed the survey, nearly one-third of centers (31%) reported revenue losses that exceeded $45,000, with 16 percent reporting losses of $75,000 or more. These are significant losses in an industry where margins are already exceedingly tight. At the same time, programs must now compete for employees amid a workforce shortage without the resources to provide competitive benefits and wages.

While leaders did what was necessary to support early education throughout the first year of the pandemic, including freezing subsidy payments at pre-pandemic levels and providing operational grants, more must be done to put the state’s child care industry on stronger financial footing for the long-term. With federal relief funds continuing to flow to states amid the COVID recovery, leaders and policymakers have the opportunity to rethink and reshape the state’s child care industry. A chronically underfinanced system needs to be retooled to serve the state’s growing workforce and economy.

Working parents’ access to affordable, quality child care is critical to increased employment and continued economic recovery. As the country moves forward, the time is ripe to address the needs of the state’s child care industry. Child care providers are the ‘workforce behind the workforce’ and supporting them can be a linchpin in a system that serves the state’s children, parents, and employers who are all united in their pursuit of creating a brighter future for everyone in North Carolina.

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About the Author

Rob Thompson is the Director, Early Childhood for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Learn more about Rob.