According to a new survey, Nebraska’s early care and education providers are under extraordinary stress and need more support to stay in business. In addition to other stressors, if the COVID-19 pandemic continues or worsens, Nebraska could lose many of its licensed child care providers unless financial assistance is provided.
The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska today released initial findings from The Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey II, a statewide survey that examined how more than 1,000 licensed family home-based and center-based child care providers are impacted by COVID-19. The survey assessed how financial supports are accessed, how providers are coping in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, and what providers still need to deliver the essential service of early care and education.
The survey findings show urgent need among a workforce that is deemed “essential” and yet operates in an environment that poses risks to health and disrupts revenue stability in an industry already operating at poverty-level wages. A report from the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission released earlier this year underscored—before the pandemic—that Nebraska’s early care and education workforce is a profession already chronically undervalued and underpaid. Economic, health, and personal stressors reported from the Institute’s first provider survey in March 2020 continue and are increasing.
“Professional providers are experiencing profound economic effects of the pandemic, and they will need assistance to continue to provide the backbone early care and education essential for Nebraska’s economy,” said the survey’s co-directors, Kate Gallagher, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute, and Alexandra Daro, research specialist at the Buffett Institute. “Many providers reported experiencing physical, cognitive, and emotional stress over the last few months, yet they remain resilient.”
Key findings reflecting the impact of COVID-19 since its onset include:
• One in three respondents applied for and received assistance from the federal CARES Act.
• Two in three received financial assistance of $1,000 each from private donors, which they used for food and cleaning supplies, rent/mortgage, and staff salaries.
• One in four providers has seen their income reduced by over 50%.
• Almost all providers have experienced decreased enrollment, with greater enrollment reductions for center-based providers.
• Three in five providers report being enrolled in the newly established Nebraska Child Care Referral Network, matching families with open, licensed child care.
Health and Emotional Impact
• In the event of illness resulting from COVID-19, less than one in four providers has paid sick leave.
• Most providers are experiencing symptoms of stress, such as changes in sleep, difficulty concentrating, social isolation, and anxiety about the future.
Current and Future Needs
• The majority of providers (51%) reported that without financial assistance they will likely close if the pandemic continues or worsens.
• Most providers (87%) would apply for financial assistance, if offered. Less than 1% say they would not seek additional financial assistance.
• The majority of providers (59%) reported using the temporary child care subsidy rule allowing providers to bill when enrolled children are absent.
The report acknowledges that child care is an underfunded system in “normal times” and that the pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated severe funding problems in the system, while elevating the urgent need for quality services for children and families. In narrative responses to survey questions, many providers indicated that they may retire or leave the industry. A few reported already receiving notices of eviction and mortgage default. The report indicates that, similar to other industries, the early care and education industry has flaws in the system, and that the most challenging aspect of child care is the serious lack of funding for quality programs.
The report concludes that in the context of the pandemic and beyond, Nebraska’s early care and education providers need ongoing, substantive financial assistance; access to affordable essential supplies; continued child care subsidy allowances; awareness of and access to the child care referral network to match families needing care with programs with open slots; paid sick leave; and access to counseling and other services to alleviate stress and support well-being.
The survey was released to 3,073 licensed providers the week of June 8, 2020. The Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey II and highlights from The Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey conducted in March 2020 are available at buffettinstitute.nebraska.edu/covid-19-resources.