NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — With weeks left until the start of the school year, and as more and more remote workers head back to the office, Connecticut is facing a labor shortage for daycare workers.
At Friend’s Center for Children in New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, director Allyx Schiavone puts a big emphasis on quality early childhood education for children of all backgrounds.
“We have filled every spot, we have a waiting list, we could fill probably five to 10 more classrooms,” said Schiavone.
She has never seen demand for childcare this high. It coincides with a time in which childcare centers across the state are feeling the effects of a national labor shortage. At Friends Center, in keeping with its focus on equity, staff are offered support with tuition, emergency expenses, even housing.
“We do all that, we really think about the well-being of our staff, and we still have three positions open,” said Schiavone.
Experts say COVID-19 and its aftermath put a burden on the majority women, majority people of color who staff the centers. It also exposed issues with the government reimbursement model for an industry where many centers —especially in low income neighborhoods — are not for profit.
Dr. Wendy Simmons heads New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District. She says the pandemic simply exposed a problem that was already there.
Dr. Simmons says fair wages are key. She’s working to overhaul the system.
“There’s this tension between early childhood experience costing too much for parents but underpaying educators all at the same time. So we’re advocating at the city, state, and federal level for increased funding,” she said.
Federal money could soon be on the way, if the Senate comes to a consensus on a new infrastructure bill. Lawmakers are currently working to hash out a deal. It includes money for early childhood education.
“We can get the $750 billion dollars that is up right now with Biden, that really is a 10 year infrastructure plan for early childhood and education. Then at least you have a chance,” said Schiavone.
Both women say that’s a start. But fixing the crisis of low wages for skilled workers requires long term solutions and shifting attitudes toward the black and brown women who, they say, do the work.
“If we are unable to meet our mandated state ratios and make sure we can provide our high quality care, we would have to close classrooms,” said Schiavone.