SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The pandemic has forced more than 8,500 licensed child care sites in Califorina to close, at least temporarily, amounting to tens of thousands of slots. As more and more parents return to work, families and providers are scrambling for solutions.
A Belmont preschool, Footsteps at Nesbit Puma Cubs, is one of several Footsteps Child Care sites that remains open in San Mateo County. Executive director Karen Haas-Foletta says Footsteps was thriving before the pandemic. Then came the shelter-in-place shutdown.
"We were doing well financially and we were on top of the world," said Haas-Foletta. "We just went off a cliff in a matter of a day."
She says $1.5 million in federal PPP loans were a lifesaver. But in California, more than 3,000 daycare providers have have closed permanently.
"It's been absolutely devastating to the industry," said David Fleishman, Executive Director of 4Cs of San Mateo County, which helps families find and pay for child care.
Fleishman says more than half the county's daycare providers are open. But some are barely getting by under new COVID health rules.
"There were fewer number of kids that were allowed, and the staffing had to remain the same or increase because teachers could not move from group to group," explained Fleishman.
Footsteps, for instance, can take only a third as many children. It went from 750 kids to 250.
"So the revenues went down, the expenses went up," Fleishman said of the providers' challenge.
A snapshot shows 45% of the county's child care programs have only enough cash on hand to stay open a few weeks to a month. That's from a recent survey by the San Mateo County COVID-19 Child Care Response Team, a group of agencies supporting families and providers.
Nearly two out of three child care centers say they're confident they'll remain open through the year. That's compared to only four in 10 home-based providers. many of them run by women of color.
"It's horrible for the families, it's horrible for the children, it's horrible for the people who want to provide the care," Fleishman said.
And for working moms?
"It's been really challenging," said Christine Padilla, Director of Build Up San Mateo County, an initiative to keep and expand child care facilities in the county. Padilla also juggles caring for her own seven-year-old daughter.
"It's been a little bit of trying to put together friends, family and neighbor care, everything from my mother helping to my sister, me taking days off when I need to," Padilla said.
The pandemic has pushed others out of the workplace. Nearly three million women nationwide left their jobs in the last year.
"It has been very stressful," said single mother Natalie Quezada.
With no affordable care for her three kids, Quezada stayed home with them and couldn't work.
Things changed when 4Cs recently helped her find and subsidize needed daycare for her two-year-old, while her 10- and 11-year-old children went back to school.
"There was a sense of relief because I now have the opportunity to find work, pay my bills, and continue my schooling," said Quezada.
But will child care providers last? Subsidies from the county, the state CARES Act, and expected funds from the President Biden's American Rescue Plan may not be enough.
"If things don't get better in September and school doesn't go back to some kind of normal, we're going to be in trouble," said Haas-Foletta.
Child care providers and families say they're literally taking each week one "footstep" at a time.
4Cs of San Mateo County helps families find child care, and helps eligible families with subsidized child care: sanmateo4cs.org
To find the 4Cs for your county: 4-c.org/families/child-care-referral/start-child-care-search
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