WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Child care facilities went from serving hundreds of families before the pandemic to just dozens throughout. As their enrollment numbers bounce back, one problem in the field has been especially highlighted: a lack of workers.
“People always need care for their kids,” Maddie Wilson, director at 2 for U Childcare said. “It’s just, do people want to work at a daycare center, and are they wanting to work right now?”
2 for U Childcare in West Des Moines went from serving 220 kids before the pandemic to just 40 during the pandemic. Because of that, many staff members weren’t needed at the time. With their child count back up to 180, management says staffing is hard to come by.
“A lot of employees were getting paid more to stay at home, so they’re like why not,” Hannah Cheney, assistant director at 2 for U Childcare, said. “But now that that state funding is kind of going away, hopefully, that’ll bring some staff back and we can get these rooms back in open and fully staffed.”
Before COVID, 2 for U had 70 people on staff. Now, the West Des Moines location only has 45. Management says a lack of employees was a problem even before the pandemic, and it’s one that can have an impact on care.
“The schedule alone is a full-time job for any daycare facility,” Wilson said. “We have to keep in ratio at all times. So if one person is out, especially being so short-staffed, it takes the entire day to figure out. Kind of like a puzzle, where can I put you so that you fit in with this age and that the room is fully staffed for what kids we have here.”
Childcare isn’t the only industry impacted by unemployment, but Wilson points out they don’t have the option to close the center or shift hours, even if they’re short on workers.
“People depend on us to be here open, during our hours that we’re open because they have to work too,” Wilson said.
Management at 2 for U is working hard to retain the employees they do have, as well as trying new things to recruit new ones. Like many industries, they are hopeful that when federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs end on June 12 in Iowa, people will go back to work and fill openings.