Hillsborough struggles to keep up with child care demand as Florida reopens, research finds

By The Numbers

(Photo: Moffit Childcare Center via WFLA)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As medical professionals continue their tireless work saving lives and other professionals begin to return to workplaces with the first phase of Florida’s reopening, new research is finding that Hillsborough County is having trouble keeping up with the need for adequate child care.

After County Commissioner Kimberly Overman raised concerns about parents returning back to work, Hillsborough County Child Care Licensing Manager Angela Chowning analyzed data about the current state of child care. The care was deemed an essential service during the state’s lockdown.

In a two-page summary of research, Chowning found 372 of the county’s 1,060 licensed child care facilities – 35 percent – have been closed. At the height of the pandemic, 46 percent of the facilities were closed.

With the closures, the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County reports that approximately 3,000 slots have become available for families that qualify for subsidized child care.

Among the concerns raised by Chowning’s research was the capacity restrictions that are still in place, which may not allow families to return to their child care facility.

With current rules, classes cannot have more than 10 people and children cannot intermingle the way they could prior to the pandemic.

Other concerns included:

  • An inability to get adequate numbers of supplies for operation
  • A shortage of childcare provider staffing available to work
  • A lack of clarity regarding the CARES Payroll Protection process and parameters
  • With the closure of the public schools and the uncertainty of the operation of summer camps, the ability to accommodate school-age children will be limited

Because the Department of Children and Families oversees private child care providers in Florida and established CDC-based guidelines for how the child care facilities are being run amid the pandemic, Hillsborough is far from the only county facing this issue.

Nearly 1.5 million children in Florida are under the age of 6, and two-thirds of those children live in homes with either a single working-outside-the-home parent or two working parents.

“Going forward, indications are that child care programs will all reopen,” Chowning’s summary said. “These agencies’ main focus is to assist in stabilizing and supporting programs that are open and to facilitate a return to full operation in the near future.”

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