MASON CITY, Iowa - A new report from Child Care of America finds that the Hawkeye State lost half of their licensed child care providers this year.
As of July, Iowa has a little over 800 in the state, down from around 1,600 last year. Nationally, the report found that attendance and enrollment remain significantly lower than at the beginning of the year. 17 of 32 states that submitted data for the report lost more than 25 percent of their child care capacity. In addition, as of July of this year, 35% of child care centers and 21% of family child care programs remain closed across the U.S.
Dawn Bill operates a daycare program out of her Clear Lake home, and cares for kids ages 1 to 12. After schools closed in March, she went down to half capacity for a couple of months, as some parents kept their children home. Since then, she has been operating at full capacity with 12 kids, the most she can provide care for under her category B license. Most of her kids are the sons or daughters of essential workers.
"I have a lot of police officers' children in my program, and healthcare workers in my program, so I'm able to continue care for them when we need them out and about."
The Child Care Aware of America report found that numbers for in-home providers stayed roughly the same from January to July, compared to larger child care centers. Because of the size she operates at, Bill feels in-home providers like herself have fared better during this time.
"Because of smaller groups, a more intimate setting than having all those kids in."
At Sunbeam Preschool in Mason City, director Linette Heimbuch says at times earlier this year, there were days where there were only 4 kids in attendance. However, they remained open, as some of the kids were children of essential workers. In addition, they received assistance from the paycheck protection program, as they only had 3 employees working at one point. Now, attendance is picking up again, with 36 kids currently in the program.
"We're actually having trouble finding workers to come and work. I don't know if people are concerned about COVID that they're not applying to work."
In addition, Heimbuch credits the virus for making staff more aware of sanitation and proper hygiene habits, and parents are being more conscious about making sure their child is healthy. While there have been some employees that were exposed to the virus outside of the preschool and had to quarantine, there have not been any positive cases from any children.
"We haven't had a lot of sickness since we've been doing more of the handwashing and those routines."
Throughout this uncertain year, Bill has had a good communique with her kids' parents, and encourages others to do the same.
"Communicate all the time with your provider. My parents are amazing. The kiddos get a little sniffle, and they're like, 'do you want me to bring them?' They're worried, and that kind of communication works for everybody. And stay positive."