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'It's A Desperate Situation:' Parents Returning To Work Facing A Shortage Of Childcare Options

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - As the days of August tick by the desperation of a lot of families is growing over finding child care.

Daycare waiting lists are common as parents try to get back to their offices.

"I mean it's a desperate situation," says St Paul's Preschool Director Mary Polley. "Parents have been looking, we have a waitlist of about 40 or 50 and we had to shut it off."

Diane Barber who heads up the Pennsylvania Child Care Association says, "We have a staffing crisis."

As a result, she says some child care centers are forced to keep some classrooms closed.

Polley says part of the reason is COVID concern.

"I have some employees who are afraid to come back because they are older," she says. "So they're afraid to come back because of the COVID virus."

Barber says when many daycare employees were furloughed last spring.

"They had to find other jobs, and the other places, you know like Target or Walmart, are paying more," she explains.

So with child care centers competing for employees, Barber says those who are applying are, "asking between 15 and $20 an hour. The average wage in Pennsylvania for childcare teachers is $10.69 an hour."

While the child care centers are increasing their pay offerings Polley says it's a balancing act with what they can charge families.

"The money you charge to make it feasible for parents to what you can pay your staff," she says.

So with a direct state-mandated ratio of staff to children, Polley says it puts a limit on how many children the centers can take.

"Unless I can get more employees, the chances of getting these people off the waitlist are very, very difficult," she says.

"So if we can't find staff and open all of our classrooms," she says. "Then we have to turn families away from, from care. I've never seen it worse than it is today."

As Polley puts it, "Parents are basically desperate."

Barber says the family impact is substantial.

"Childcare is the linchpin for families being able to go back to work," she says.

On top of all that Polley says they are hearing from parents that employers are making it tough on parents who want to continue working from home.

"They are telling parents they have to have their kids out of the house when they're working, it makes it difficult for them," she explains.

WATCH: Alternative Options For Childcare

Barber worries about what parents will do when they start grasping at straws.

"They'll look at alternative options that may not be quite as safe," Barber says.

Specifically, she says social media, Facebook, and Craig's List.

"I always worry about the people who step up, especially when we talk about caring for young children," she says.

Parents are not equipped to thoroughly check out a person's background. Prompting her to ask, "What is the environment that you're leaving your child in?"

But the daycares are not in a position to help.

"I can only take so many, and after that, I don't know what I can tell you it's, it's hard," Polley says. "It's difficult for them."

The daycare professionals are concerned the situation is going to create more latch key children home alone after school at younger ages than might be safe.

They suggest you use your personal connections through those you know, or your church to search for care.

If a child care facility turns you away ask for their recommendation. They may have a former employee looking to pick up some hours. Pennsylvania does have a website called Compass that can connect you to credible care but just know the lists will require you to make calls to those in your area and hope you find an opening.

But as you make those calls and put your name on their waiting lists you might also ask them for ideas and recommendations.

You can check out that site at this link.

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