As the Madison County economy has grown, so have concerns over the demand for child care.
The focus was on worries that Huntsville and Madison were already only meeting about half the demand for child care, and there was a gap in services as well as licensed child care.
Gail Piggott, executive director of the Alabama Partnership for Children, held a summit last fall as a means for finding solutions not just for standard 8 to 5 care, but also for shift care, and weekend child care as well.
She formed a task force to look at the demands and issues associated with child care in North Alabama.
Six weeks ago, that task force was suddenly faced with a more daunting task. They have been working day and night trying to draft a set of recommendations and best practices they can share with the Alabama Department of Human Resources, the Legislature, and with Gov. Kay Ivey’s staff to save the child care industry in North Alabama.
“The one big thing we’ve learned is there is no state entity that collects all of the public and private data around child care,: Piggott said. “We can get information from DHR about licensing and subsidies, but there is a whole other world of private child care out there, and there is no way to count how many are enrolled in those programs.”
She said it has shown a glaring light on the need for a central repository of data about child care. Once that is created, it will provide a real-time model that helps parents.
“If you send parents a list,” she said. “That is no different from looking through the phone book or looking at a list online.
“But when you know what fees are currently being charged, who has openings in an infant classrooms, et cetera, that is the real-time help that supports parents and families, and it’s a glaring need in our state right now.”
She said the best research is a national survey conducted in mid-April of 50 day care centers and 50 home providers.
The results are alarming. One-third of all childcare programs said they could not financially survive more than two weeks.
“It’s not an industry that operates on big margins or that has big reserves,” said Piggott. “In that same survey, one-third of them said they will probably never reopen.
“Now we don’t know how many of those are family child care, how many are day care centers, but that folks, is going to cause an alarming problem if we’re not able to, in an emergency like the COVID-19 crisis, to stabilize the industry and keep them afloat. These people have already been without income for two weeks, three weeks, maybe four weeks. The economy cannot rev back up if we don’t have childcare options for working families.”
She said the task force must encourage and specify will stabilize it.
The outlook presents a conundrum because, out in the field, Piggott said there is a lot of confusion.
“There are CDC guidelines involved as well as Alabama child care licensing guidelines and those have been modified,” she said. “Then there are Alabama Health Department guidelines and they often differ from county to county.”
There are also fears and concerns from teachers, day care center owners and directors surrounding the vast unknowns. Many of the fears and concerns are about not being able to serve their families, not being able to see the children, or connect with the children.