Daycare struggles amid COVID-19 pandemic could cause reopening issues for North Carolina economy

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- It's quite a dilemma; daycare services are badly needed by essential workers who are keeping our economy limping along. But with so many working from home, the need for daycare has dwindled.

And that's not the only reason child care enrollment is down according to Raleigh daycare owner Carolyn Driggers.

"A lot of parents are now keeping their children at home because either the parents have lost their job or their hours have gotten cut," Driggers told ABC11.

Driggers said all of that combined is devastating child care industry revenues. Her business, Appletree Day Care, operates four daycare centers in East Raleigh.

Driggers is also the interim president of the North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association.

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She also noted lost revenue from lower enrollment isn't the only major problem saying, "Currently we have a lot of staff that are out of the facilities due to the fact that they have underlying health conditions. So they are staying at home. And it's gotten really hard to get staff."

The only solution Driggers sees for that problem is if state regulators are willing to adjust requirements for daycare workers.

"When we're going through the pandemic, if we could loosen some of those restrictions a little bit just during the pandemic so that we can get some help into the centers," she said.

Driggers said she's been able to hold on because she's been in business for 30 years and has reserves. But even she can't continue like this well into 2021.

"Honestly, I don't think many centers out there can make it another year at the rate that we're going right now," Driggers said adding that when the pandemic finally does end, the loss of daycares will have a direct impact on the economies of both North Carolina and the nation.

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"If many of these daycares shut down then when people do start going back to work, there's not going to be. Places are going to be limited for them," she said, "And it's going to be very hard to get your child in child care because there's not as many places to choose from."

That's why she said the North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association is working with state leaders to try to come up with ways to keep the daycare industry operating in order to avoid a major impediment to fully reopening the economy.

ABC11 recently asked the NC Department of Health and Human Services to answer questions from parents about child care during the pandemic. Here are answers with important links included:

1. How many total regulated childcare centers (0-5) are there in NC? There are 5,685 licensed child care programs in North Carolina. You can search for child care, including by age range here. There are 3,696 child care facilities with that serve children ages 0 to 5.

2. How many total regulated childcare centers (0-5) are there in Wake County? There are 507 licensed child care programs in Wake County. You can search for child care, including by county here. There are 408 child care facilities that serve children ages 0 to 5.

3. How many total regulated childcare centers in NC will not reopen because of the pandemic? There are approximately 4,100 child care facilities currently operating, based on self-reported data from child care facilities. We cannot predict how many programs will remain closed.

How many total regulated childcare centers in Wake County will not reopen because of the pandemic? There are approximately 506 child care facilities in Wake County currently operating, based on self-reported data from child care facilities. We cannot predict how many programs will remain closed.

4. At what capacity are the reopened childcare centers in NC operating? Child care facilities are allowed to operate at the typical capacity and staff/child ratios that they operated prior to the pandemic. However, child care facilities are required to follow the ChildCareStrongNC public health guidance, which outlines rigorous health and safety requirements to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including wearing face coverings for staff and children above 5, following cleaning and hygiene protocols, conducting daily symptom screenings and numerous other measures.
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