When COVID hit in March, parents with small children withdrew their young children from child care centers, forcing more than 60 to close their doors for good while others struggled to stay open.
“I’m still down to three kids and it’s difficult. It’s very difficult,” Dorothelia Barnett said. “You know, I’ve got bills to pay. I have a mortgage to pay.”
Barnett has operated Tott’s Inn Daycare & Learning Center in East Hartford for 21 years and she’s never had trouble filling her six slots until now. She said some of the parents were in the hospitality business, which was dramatically impacted by the pandemic.
“I’m not one to fall behind on paying my bills,” Barnett said.
That’s where the Women’s Business Development Council steps in with small grants of under $20,000 to help 300 daycares keep their doors open.
“75% of the programs in Connecticut are funded entirely by parent tuition so if you lose 20, 30, 40% of your kids, it’s very hard to stay in business,” Beth Bye, commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood said.
The Office of Early Childhood teamed up with the Women’s Business Development Council to help provide funding until the federal government comes through with another stimulus.
“We’re providing grants of up to $20,000 so they can get through this really, really rough patch right now,” Fran Pastore said.
Pastore, of the Women’s Business Development Council, said this funding is critical right now.
“These family-run daycare businesses are really small. They operate on really thin margins,” Pastore said.
Many rely on parent tuition, but with more parents working from home there’s less of a need for child care.
“We’ve lost 66 child care centers since the start of the pandemic and if we compare that to 2019 in that same period of time, three closed, and in 2018 four closed,” Bye said.
While many parents are turning away from child care centers a survey of Connecticut parents found about 8% are moving toward family-based child care programs like Barnett's as a result of the pandemic. These types of programs tend to be much smaller and often home-based.
“It will definitely help to get me over this hump,” Barnett said.
Barnett said she will spend the money on PPE, a new playscape, and her mortgage because her home is also her business and the lights have to stay on whether she has two kids or six kids.
“It’s essential. I need cleaning supplies. I need Lysol. I mean, it’s like you’re fighting a war out there just to find Lysol,” Barnett said.