Analyzed data on child care operations in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to better understand the effect of COVID-19 on child care programs during the shutdown and reopening as parents try to return to work.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many child care providers closed, but as states ease lockdowns, providers are planning to reopen and scale up their operations. Child care will be essential for families trying to return to work. Starting Point, an early education agency that provides out-of-school time resources and acts as a referral agency for children, collected and analyzed data on child care operations in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to better understand the effect of COVID-19 and the reopening of child care programs.
Partnering with Case Western Reserve University, Starting Point employed two strategies for data collection. First, the research team convened an advisory group with representatives from the child care community to get their advice on how to focus the study and interpret findings. Second, the team conducted a child care capacity and vacancy survey of all licensed child care programs (approximately 600) and registered child care homes (approximately 350) in the county. This survey ultimately engaged 350 licensed child care centers and 311 family care homes and compared their survey responses in 2019 and 2020. The questions respondents were asked included how COVID-19 affected their operations, their plans for reopening, and how children and families were impacted, among others. The research team also reported on neighborhood-level child care needs by comparing American Community Survey data on household type and worker employment categories, and by comparing changes in the use of public child care subsidies.
Starting Point reported their findings in a publicly available Story Map. They found that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting impacts on the economy have dealt a blow to the child care delivery system in Cuyahoga County, and that these impacts vary by place and demographics of community members. They found that overall enrollment of children dropped by 43 percent; overall provider capacity dropped by 29 percent; more school-aged children were enrolled in child care (likely as a result of virtual learning in K-5 schools and working parents’ needing support); and, women in the region are more likely to be in “COVID-impacted industries” in comparison to men the region, who are more likely to be employed in “essential” occupations. The program-level data was also analyzed at the neighborhood level to identify areas where large gaps exist between available child care slots and the projected demand for care and reported visually for comparison.
The team communicated survey results back to stakeholders in the child care community to make them aware of challenges and opportunities identified by their peers. Stakeholders who support the quality enhancement of child care programs, such as Invest in Children (administered by the Cuyahoga County Office of Early Childhood) and PRE4CLE (an initiative promoting high-quality preschool in Cleveland), have benefited from the data. For example, this work inspired a successful advocacy effort for child care workers to get priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Ultimately, the project has assisted child care program operators informed regional foundations, and impacted advocacy efforts in the early childhood space.