The Ally: August 2020 – Dr. Cathy Grace

Dr. Cathy Grace
The Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

Thomas Payne’s often-quoted words, “These are the times that try men’s souls”… still resonate today. Many of us may feel we are in the fight of our lives, and we are not sure some days if we are winning. We never dreamed our lives would be disrupted so quickly by a disease that is still puzzling the medical field. These are truly the times that try men’s souls.

As we enter month seven of the COVID -19 Pandemic, parents are reentering the workforce. Emergency unemployment benefits have expired, and school-age children are returning to school. But what about families with younger children? How can families go back to work when the childcare programs they have depended on are closed? In May, The Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at the North Mississippi Education Consortium and the University of Mississippi surveyed 1,120 licensed child care centers in the state to determine if and how they were operating.

Of the 35% of centers responding, 55% indicated they were closed or operating on a limited basis. Even with federal funds for emergency support, child care centers in Mississippi are barely surviving. The Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) has the primary responsibility of financial disbursement of all federal funds targeting childcare for priority populations and are using the funds to help sustain facilities that serve the children, with the exception of Head Start.

In May, 42% of centers had lost at least half of their revenue; 51% of centers could not pay even half of their monthly expenses. During the summer, DHS has supported struggling facilities by providing additional funds for programs serving the children of first responders and those that enrolled children in priority populations. Soon, additional funds will be released by DHS to shore up the deflated revenue facilities are experiencing again. These funds will help offset increasing expenditures for purchasing extra cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment. COVID-19 has upended the childcare industry.

The role the childcare industry plays in the economic growth in communities across the state is absolutely critical. The pandemic has brought to light the necessity of childcare facilities offering high quality, safe, and affordable care so that parents can continue to work. As schools experiment with online instruction in their efforts to mitigate COVID-19, working parents of school-age children will now find themselves looking at childcare facilities during traditional school hours. If the number of licensed facilities in a community is inadequate, where will the children spend their days?

The philanthropic community in Mississippi has been more than generous in supporting the growth and development of our citizens, beginning in the early years. Science proves that the first years for a child are the most critical for brain development, making high-quality childcare even more essential for children. Why not let this be a call to action? Philanthropic organizations could become the catalyst in creating the type of high-quality systems our children deserve, starting at the community level. We need a long-range plan to develop robust methods of education for our youngest citizens. Such an effort would represent a victory over COVID-19. We could then say to Mr. Payne, “Our souls were tested, and we are the stronger for it.”

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