Campus child care centers face worker shortage due to pandemic
By KIM BLACK
The COVID-19 pandemic closed child care facilities nationwide, and many never reopened. “It’s created a child care desert,” Rochelle Fouts, Amarillo College education and early childhood instructor, said. One of the biggest challenges for AC’s child care facilities is “just finding people who want to work,” Fouts said.
The pandemic brought new guidelines for classroom size, teacher-student ratios, cleaning and masking. This means more work, higher cost standards and more strain for everyone. “Our seasoned workforce is worn-out,” Fouts said.
In a Dec. 15, 2021, article for “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” Kelly Field reported, “In 2004 roughly 60% of public colleges had campus child care centers. By 2019 only 45% did. The steepest losses have occurred at community colleges, which educate 42% of all student parents.”
“The larger of Amarillo College’s two centers is licensed to serve 135 students but currently has only 78 because of staffing shortages,” Dennis Sarine, AC’s director of teacher preparation and early childhood education, said in the same article.
Many established workers left the field. Some became caregivers to others, their own family members and some left because “the new regulations made the job less fun,” Patricia Keith, AC child care coordinator, said. Extra work, along with concerns over the effects of the virus, has led to “caregiver exhaustion, and a mental health crisis,” she said.
“Scheduling staff for the week is like a game of Tetris,” Keith said. When one worker is out, the others shift around the facility to maintain the right teacher-student balance. “We’re in this together. We’re better together. And we need each other fiercely,” she said.
Keith said because AC’s child care facilities have Texas Rising Star’s four-star certification, their teacher-student ratio was already low, about two teachers for every eight children, so the new guidelines had minimal impact on that aspect.
Another challenge facing the schools is the continually updating guidelines for dealing with the virus itself.
New protocols require that when anyone in the facility — child, teacher or staff — tests positive for the virus or becomes symptomatic, “we report it to Amarillo College, to licensing and to the Health Department,” Keith said.
The Health Department determines who stays and who quarantines, then notifies the affected parents of the situation. The staff sends letters to parents when a possible exposure occurs.
“Most parents are understanding and see the staff working hard,” Keith said. Frustration does occur, but it’s usually because of “misunderstandings, or a need for more information.”
The goal is to maintain communication with parents “to assure them that the staff is doing everything possible to keep kids safe and settle their fears.” Erica Cole, child care supervisor for AC, said.
The AC child care facilities have full-time positions with benefits available and part-time and student positions open now, Fouts said.