As Baton Rouge Area residents begin the effort to reopen the economy, parents and guardians across the region are wondering two things: 1) where will my kids go when I go back to work, and 2) am I comfortable putting them in someone else’s care? Without access to safe and reliable childcare reopening concurrent with parents and guardians’ return to work, the nearly 40 percent of Baton Rouge Area households with children under age 14 may not be fully heading back to the workforce.
Where do Kids Go When Schools are Closed?
At this point in the year, many children would normally make the transition from school to summer care, be that in a camp, a church, or other program. With schools closed for the year, the immediate and critical nature of this primarily private industry reopening cannot be overstated; a successful reopening of the Capital Region economy relies upon a successful and concurrent opening of the private summer care industry.
When public schools across Louisiana closed on March 13, kids not only lost access to education in-person, working parents and guardians lost their ability to work in-person as well. This was only compounded by the Stay at Home order that went into effect shortly thereafter. Children no longer in school are now being cared for in care centers provided specifically for essential workers, at home by remote-working parents and guardians, or at home by parents and guardians forced to choose their children over their jobs.
Support Systems for the Public and Private Childcare Sectors
The federal government has provided some support for childcare centers as part of the COVID-19 response bills Congress has passed. With federal assistance, the Louisiana Department of Education has provided supplemental care assistance for the children of essential workers. The Department has maintained a database of operating childcare centers and has eased the path to re-opening so that licensed centers that wish to reopen may do so as quickly as possible. The Department is also working to assemble and provide information for childcare centers on critical issues that all businesses are working to quickly understand: health and safety guidance, personal protective equipment, and other vital protocols necessary to open and operate safely.
As in many industries, the fear that customers may not return is real, as is the fear that employees will not return. The $44,000 annualized salary provided by the federally supplemented maximum unemployment insurance available in Louisiana due to COVID-19 is higher than the average salary of most childcare workers. These critical employees, whose work will enable the rest of the economy to open, have strong economic incentive to remain on unemployment insurance until the federal supplement ends on June 29th (if it is not extended in an additional federal bill).
Barriers to Summer Camp Opening
Unlike schools and early childcare centers, no public entity exists to provide coordinated assistance to the summer care industry. While some summer camps and programs have accreditation from national or other organizations, many of them are simply small local businesses or non-profits, and few of them have access to an organization like the Department of Education to give them guidance or support.
The private childcare industry needs support to ensure that parents and guardians can both find a high-quality care provider and feel comfortable about choosing it for their children. The industry and its workers should receive priority from the state for critical items and guidance, including:
- personal protective equipment like masks and gloves;
- cleaning materials like hand sanitizer and wipes;
- access to COVID-19 tests on-demand;
- expedited background checks; and,
- hazard pay to lure employees off UI and back to the workplace.
Like most businesses, the childcare industry is suffering. BRAC has surveyed summer care providers and very early responses indicate that providers for at least 2,200 students will offer either no or virtual-only programming. Each summer care provider that makes this decision is burdened with the reality that it puts at risk the ability to work of the parents and guardians who rely on it.
The private childcare sector is a bedrock to successful reopening of the Baton Rouge Area economy. It is critical that the private summer care industry open fully in a healthy and safe manner and that our political and civic leadership place the priority upon this industry that it rightly merits.
For more on this topic, view BRAC’s Business Webinar held on May 18 on Opening and Operating Summer Programming in the Capital Region, featuring Christian Engle, president and CEO of the Capital Area YMCA, Leea Russell, director of education with the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, and Brandon Foreman, associate publisher of Baton Rouge Parents.
As BRAC’s senior vice president of economic competitiveness, Liz leads the organization’s public policy advocacy, strategy, research, and reform activities aimed at advancing the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the Baton Rouge Region.