As more parents go back to the office, the demand for child care is back, but a lot of the providers are not.
The labor shortage is taking a toll on the industry, causing some centers in Massachusetts to cut back hours and close locations.
Five teachers at Teddy Bear Village in Framingham left during the pandemic. Some of them did not want to take the health risk. Others left to take care of their own children or pursue other opportunities. As a result, administrators found themselves having to cover classrooms.
"It would be like a crisis every time we had a sick call," said the center's director, Glorimar Negron. "Then again, it's not just us. Everyone around us is going through the same thing."
The situation is even worse at Nurtury in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. Nicole Plummer, the center's director, said it has nine open positions. Since the facility is so short staffed, it is asking teachers to work longer days and having administrators cover their breaks.
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"We are here to support the families, but right now, it is very hard," Plummer said.
The shortage became such a problem that Laura Perille, Nurtury's president and chief executive, recently decided to close one of the locations just so they could consolidate the staff they do have.
"We have closed classrooms, which means families that are looking for care can't get it, and families do need care," Perille said.
There is no overnight solution to the staffing problem. Massachusetts requires early educators to get certified. They also have to complete nine months of hands-on experience.
Nurtury is offering signing bonuses and scholarships for employees who want to continue their education. Federal aid has been promised for child care providers, but Perille said what many want is more public funding for early education so they can pay teachers more without having to charge families more.
"If we're not prepared to do that, we are putting enormous stress on women, almost exclusively women, and predominantly women of color, who are willing to come and do this work, and that is the crux of the crisis," Perille said.