In Michigan, many areas are experiencing a child care crisis as part of a larger national problem. Due to many factors, some exacerbated by the pandemic, there is a lack of workers and centers to serve families. We spoke with daycares and professionals in Ann Arbor, Detroit and Port Huron about the current situation and possible solutions to the shortage.
In Ann Arbor
Annette Sobocinski, Executive Director of childcare network in Ann Arbor, says the nonprofit has served eight southeast Michigan counties since 1971. The network provides support to child care providers and families with young children. The Network acts as the Southeast Regional Resource Center for Good quality startand provides child care provider guidance, training, lending libraries with resources, and more.
Sobocinski says Washtenaw County has 283 licensed child care programs. She says that while that number has shrunk by just over 30 providers over the past two years, not all of them have been affected solely by the pandemic. Although this slight decrease in programs has occurred, Sobocinski says the lack of employees is the biggest problem.
“There are many approved centers that, if staffed, could open additional classrooms to make room for other children in their programs,” she says. “There’s just a lack of staff in the child care and early years field, which is really hurting the industry and availability for families.”
The main reason for the lack of child care workers and early childhood service providers is low wages. Salaries for child care providers compared to a kindergarten teacher are very different, says Sobocinski, although they are essentially the same job. The industry also competes with fast food and retail workers, who receive higher wages. Pay for custodial staff doesn’t reflect the demands of the job, Sobocinski says.
“As we try to professionalize the field and make childcare high quality, the demands increase. So for someone teaching four-year-olds, they have to have a high school diploma,” she says. “The benchmarks of what’s required are higher, but the salary hasn’t increased to match.”
Going forward, Sobocinski hopes the industry can start recruiting staff members earlier in life, even in middle school and high school. But this requires higher remuneration.
“A lot of child care workers don’t even earn enough to afford child care or other things for their own families,” she says. Many child care workers receive public benefits because they do not earn enough to be able to take full care of their own families.
“We have a system where it’s just sort of broken because the parents are supposed to cover the cost, but the cost isn’t enough to be able to pay staff what they’re really worth in the critical work they do. “, she adds. .
To help with that, Sobocinski suggests more public investment and hopes that new opportunities coming from the federal government through the Michigan Department of Education can ideally help support some recruitment and better compensation.
“Right now we are in dire straits,” she said. “It is a very difficult time to be a child care provider and early years staff member.
Josh Chapman sees significant barriers to expanding child care options. Photo: David Lewinsky.
In Port Huron
Josh Chapman, President and CEO of Blue Water Area YMCAstrives to allocate resources to daycare directors and head teachers, and provide support to all families.
Chapman says the child care crisis is having a cascading effect that is being impacted by COVID-19 in industries around the world.
“Locally in St. Clair County, we’ve lost a significant number of vendors,” he says. “Childcare, by nature, is a very lean organization. There’s not a lot of margin and big overhead, so I think there’s sometimes a misconception in the public, because it’s so expensive individually, that the operators or the owners make a lot of money . That’s definitely not the case.”
Without capital, Chapman says, many child care centers couldn’t “weather the storm” at the start of the pandemic. The second problem, according to him, is the regulation of “bureaucracy”.
“To open new daycares, it’s very prohibitively expensive by the state because it’s very difficult to do from a licensing perspective,” Chapman says. “There are all these complications to get the permit. It is expensive, it takes time and, in addition, for many centers that have very thin margins, they do not have the initial capital to make these investments and do this work. The state really makes it so hard that no one wants to participate. Nobody wants to open new child care centres. They love working with children, they love helping develop children’s potential, but it’s a very difficult area to get into.
Chapman also sees low wages as an obstacle. However, the increase in fees could deprive families of childcare services.
“It’s really a vicious cycle, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.
For Chapman, a possible solution to the crisis is the establishment of a universal model of pre-kindergarten.
“I think the two biggest elements would be the subsidies provided by the state, either to cover the cost of care to quality providers, or to incentivize companies to subsidize, or to fully offer a universal pre-K model, then invest capital both from a financial point of view. but also educational infrastructure,” he says.
Without capital, child care centers would be forced to take out loans to open more child care centers, resulting in bankruptcy or savings.
“Childcare is one of those things that’s a bit like being a pilot,” Chapman says. “You don’t want your pilot cutting a corner, you don’t want your barber cutting a corner, and you don’t want your preschool cutting a corner. The end result is not good.
Meghann Porada leads the Early Childhood Development Program at the Blue Water Area YMCA. Photo: David Lewinsky.
Krista McClure, Director and Founder of Detroit Parent Collective and free thinker school in Detroit, works daily to provide a supportive community for families in the 48221 zip code. The Collective began as a coworking space offering on-site childcare in the heart of Detroit, McClure explains. It has since evolved to include a licensed child care program in January 2022. The intent of both models is to bring people together across social, economic, racial, ethnic, gender and other divides.
“One thing we discovered during COVID is that we could be beneficial for families working remotely, those who need a space where they can actually drop their kids off at daycare while they work,” she says. “That was our intention when we launched the licensed child care program, Free Thinker School.”
For the Free Thinker School model, says McClure, “the quality of care for children depends not just on the educators who care for them, but on the community that nurtures and truly supports them.”
Krista McClure. Photo: Joe Powers / Site Photography.
Staff support is hugely important to McClure, despite the industry’s nationwide and national low-wage crisis.
“The pay gap between someone who might work in early elementary school and in early childhood, like a preschool or kindergarten class, can be between $15,000 and $20,000,” she says. “The average hourly wage for child care providers in the state of Michigan is $9.53. That’s less than $24,000/year. Early childhood educators are being asked to really be the backbone of the economy looking after families, so families can get back to work, and yet they are being paid low wages.
Thanks to the Detroit Parent Collective’s mixed model, operating with multiple sources of income, McClure says she’s blessed with a nonprofit and an LLC. The Collective generates revenue, but may also seek federal grants and philanthropic funds.
Photo: Joe Powers / Site Photography.“My revenue stream is a little different than typical daycares. It allows me to pay my staff anywhere from $25 to $39 an hour,” she says. In total, the school has three employees, and two others will begin later this month.
With a sliding scale of tuition from $312.50/month to over $1,000/month, McClure says families pay an average of $750/month, compared to $1,200/month for similar models, and a subsidized price of $600/month. The school’s request is transparent that families may be asked to pay additional tuition fees in order to help other struggling families. This internal grant reflects the organization’s mission to create a space that is inclusive of both racial diversity and socioeconomic status.
By creating an ecosystem of families, some close to their children, Free Thinker School uses a unique approach that is increasingly in demand.
“We’re a unique and diverse model, but we’re undermining the family market,” McClure says. “We are changing what education and early childhood look like.”
McClure hopes to create a toolkit for future centers and educators looking to adopt this coeducational model of child care.
“There are people who are directly connected to the community they live in, who I think can take this model, adopt it, implement it and follow it themselves,” she says. “That’s what my immediate goal and long-term goal is.
Photo: Our history photographers.