Childcare is an essential part of a vibrant community. Its availability, affordability and quality significantly impact every aspect of family and community life — education, income and employment, health and wellbeing, and even a topic headlining recent news — our supply chain. The childcare shortage is not news for local families with young children. They live with the stress of finding reliable, quality childcare every day.
In June 2021, the Shallow Ford Foundation was asked to look into the shortage of childcare in our footprint of Clemmons, Lewisville and Yadkin County. We unknowingly thought we might quickly grasp the issues and start considering remedies. Instead, every conversation led us to more issues, the need for additional information and more research. Sarah Boudreau, a recent college graduate with a degree in public health education and now a graduate student, agreed to a part-time project to help us collect and organize the information we needed. In our first conversation, I advised, “This is not an academic research project and our goal is not a report. Rather, we are simply needing information to help inform the best solution.” We now laugh. Four months and numerous reports, surveys and conversations later, we have humbly published the report of what we learned. The layers of complexity behind the childcare shortage required a deeper and broader understanding. The results are worth sharing because the solutions will require partnerships and community-wide support.
We are very grateful for the experts, the providers, parents and employers who informed and guided us throughout our learning experience and the report. The environment and issues surrounding childcare are regularly changing with a growing priority within governments and a labor force redefining itself as it comes out of a pandemic.
As the most recent example, on Oct. 8, as our report was being finalized, Gov. Roy Cooper announced $805 million in Stabilization Grants from the American Rescue Plan Act available to existing licensed childcare programs to address many of the issues identified in our report. The grant application is open to all private, licensed early care and learning programs in the state, including those inside homes and churches. The grants will be awarded starting this month and all costs must be incurred only up through Sept. 30, 2023. While this is encouraging news to assist existing providers in addressing current challenges that prevent operating at full-licensed capacity, sustainability remains a question. Further, new operators are not eligible for the state grants until they become licensed. Licensed childcare capacity may not sustainably expand without other solutions.
The childcare shortages pre-date COVID and may continue unless additional capacity is created. The unknown is whether the growing, post-COVID preference of workers toward home-based work will somewhat reduce the overall demand for childcare. The ever-changing environment that influences childcare demand and capacity makes planning with certainty difficult. Yet, with partnerships and alliances, there is increased likelihood of well-designed strategies that are locally responsive to the best-anticipated needs. Such alliances will also ensure that long-term solutions are practical, maximize resources, and minimize duplication of efforts.
Our report offers some childcare expansion strategies to explore. In fact, through the relationships formed during this project, we are encouraged by some of the new and promising solutions now in discussion.
We all want a community that is attractive to young, working families and to new and existing employers seeking an available labor force. A dearth of high-quality childcare can be an impediment to growth on many levels. Identifying the issues is step No. 1. We look forward to the next steps — practical and lasting solutions that help alleviate the shortage.