Hiring crisis in child care: ‘We’re stuck in a market that’s broken’

Preschool children playing outside, holding a colorful flag, at Mt. Carmel Early Education and Care Center in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

A preschool class at Mt. Carmel Early Education and Care Center in Chicopee, Massachusetts. (Nancy Eve Cohen/NEPM)

In western Massachusetts, the cost and availability of child care can be a major barrier to employment for some parents. During the pandemic, it has become an even bigger problem, in part because day care providers themselves are having a harder time recruiting employees.

Standing in a circle, preschoolers at the Mt Carmel Early Education and Care Center in Chicopee are flapping a multi-colored round cloth they call a parachute, and running under it.

Teachers Mariah Baez and Tiannah Youmans are helping them learn to play together.

“What else we can do with the parachute?” Youmans asked the children.

“Twirl around,” one child answered.

“We can twirl around?” Youmans replied. “OK! Look, everyone grab a side.”

Sometimes the lessons come when playing together isn’t going as well.

“You’re on his foot, my love,” Baez said to a preschooler on a tricycle. “Give him a minute. He’s trying to fix it.”

Both Baez and Youmans said they love their work. But, overall, child care providers said they’re having trouble hiring staff.

Stephen Huntley is executive director of Valley Opportunity Council which oversees this program and others serving low and moderate income families in Hampden County.

“We’ve had to close down one of our centers because of staffing issues,” Huntley said. “So we do have one center that isn’t opened that houses 38 children.”

In total, Valley Opportunity Council is serving 136 fewer kids than it did before the pandemic. That’s mostly because about 20% of the in-home day care providers the agency oversees have not reopened, or are taking fewer kids because of the risk of COVID-19.

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