'It's just hard to find somebody': Navigating childcare during the COVID pandemic

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Director of City Kids, Juliet Blackenberry, holds Marlow Dyer, 23 months, after the toddlers came out to  a common area to play after nap time on Monday, October 11th, 2021. Staffing has been a challenge during the pandemic and Blackenberry has had to pitch in to support her teachers in the classroom in a variety of aways on top of her administrative duties.

RIPLEY  Patricia Kelly, owner of Precious Memories Kid Care, said it's always been difficult finding childcare employees, but the pandemic has made it worse. 

COVID-19 caused several of Patricia Kelly's childcare employees to leave. For some, they quit out of caution to stay safe and healthy, others were terminated because they didn't take the pandemic seriously, Kelly said. 

She has 12 childcare employees, but she needs more. Precious Memories is offering open interviews because they need help immediately this isn't the only childcare facility that feels this way. 

The country's childcare labor force is down more than 10% since the pandemic began. With strained access to childcare and a surge of people leaving the labor force, Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst with West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said childcare may be a cause of the downshift in the country's job growth. 

Strained work force 

September had the lowest job growth in 2021 West Virginia is feeling the strain, too with a fraction of its pre-pandemic jobs. 

The country only saw 194,000 jobs added in September, whereas in May, June and July there was an average of 889,000 added. West Virginia has also fallen short with 28,700 fewer jobs since the COVID pandemic struck, according to West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. 

O'Leary said enhanced unemployment benefits, which ended in June, aren't to blame for the lack of filled jobs across the state. Since March 2020, 54 million women lost or quit their jobs. Of those women, almost 90% have left the labor force, according to the Washington Post. 

"It'll take a long time to actually get to the root of what is going on," O'Leary said. "In the past when you would see that happen and if you see it like in the United States but you don't see another country, the reason is usually childcare."

There's a child-to-instructor ratio that daycares must follow. Kelly said an employee can watch no more than four children under 2 at a time, and eight children per instructor is they are at least 2-years old. 

"Honestly, I don't put one person with eight 2-year-old because it's just, like, crazy," Kelly said. "We usually double."

With double the reinforcement, Kelly will still step in if her employees need help or if someone's out sick. On top of constantly working at the daycare, Kelly also offers financial assistance to her childcare employees. The state requires that instructors complete an annual 15-hour training session. 

Pay has always been an issue, Kelly said. She said she usually starts her employees at $10 an hour, but pay is dependent on experience. 

"They have to know that it's just not sitting here babysitting you know wiping noses and stuff like that," Kelly said. "You have to teach, you have to sing, you have to play."

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.