When ABC Child Development Center opened in Victoria in 1984, there were only 12 children enrolled. Today, even with the threat of COVID-19 still hanging over Carrefour, that number has risen to around 130 children with just 16 staff to care for them, said Patricia Ingram, owner and director of the center.
“I tell everyone that I don’t run the daycare, I’m the one who manages,” Ingram said. “You try to please the parents, you try to please the children, you try to please your teachers, but it’s an act of juggling to keep everyone going.”
The child care industry battled a labor crisis long before COVID-19 was even an idea in American consciousness, and the pandemic has only made the problem worse. The sheer and sometimes unexpected difficulty of the job can create a revolving door of people entering and exiting the industry, Ingram said.
Low wages are one of the main causes of the child care workforce shortage, said Cody Summerville, executive director of the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children. The labor shortage also means that daycares are unable to accept more children and that parents looking for daycare to be able to return to work are often unable to find one. Summerville continued.
“With other industries paying more for entry-level positions, whether at a gas station or a grocery store, the starting salary in other industries is considerably higher and often includes benefits as well,” did he declare.
Because the child care industry is unable to provide competitive salaries to employees, it is difficult to retain staff, Summerville said.
Rising tuition fees won’t help solve the problem, Summerville said. Families are already struggling to afford child care tuition which can sometimes exceed college tuition.
Ingram said she was able to use the federal paycheck protection program to provide incentive compensation and bonuses to her staff who were working during the height of the pandemic. However, this does not translate into new candidates coming through its doors.
Many who attempt to enter the industry are surprised at the difficulty and demanding nature of the job, said Priscilla Ramirez, deputy director of the ABC Child Development Center.
“They think it’s like they’re going to sit in this room, and the kids are just there to play, but it’s a whole new ball game in there,” she said.
Children at the ABC Child Development Center are separated and are given lesson plans based on their age, Ingram said. Even infants have specific lesson plans that help improve motor skills and different aspects of their growth.
“We’re not just a babysitting service,” she said. “We teach these young children, we prepare them. It’s something to be proud of when you see that little bulb light up in their head like, “Oh, wow! I can do it.'”
Labor shortages in the child care sector are spilling over to other sectors, Summerville said.
“Families are struggling to find care and it really puts a strain on all industries,” he said. “Industries need fully engaged employees who can show up and do their jobs. When employees don’t have high quality child care, it affects productivity, it affects their attendance.
Although Ingram has 16 teachers on staff, she said her ideal number would be 19 or 20. With more teachers, she could open two more infant rooms.
“You can’t continue to take children if you don’t have staff,” she said.
Due to staffing issues, there are more than 25 people on a waiting list to sign up for the ABC Child Development Center, Ingram said.
“We’re at full capacity with the teachers we have,” she said. “It’s bad for parents who are trying to go to work and can’t find daycare. They will say, “I have to go to work, I have to start”, but you have to be put on the waiting list.
Cody covers the pace of business for the lawyer. He can be reached at (361) 580-6504 or [email protected]