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'It's really tough on the whole country' | DC-area child care providers seeing staffing, supply shortages

Providers say some staff found other jobs, while others are still afraid to return because of COVID-19.

WASHINGTON — As more parents head back to work in the D.C. region, many are struggling to find child care options. Providers point to staffing and supply shortages as part of the problem.

Barbara Chambers Children's Center in D.C. has been a lifeline for the families they serve. Many of their parents had to work at the height of the pandemic.

“They were asking us, 'When are you going to reopen? When are you going to reopen? Because, you know, we have to go back to work,'” executive director Maribel Ventura-Torres said.

She said they're struggling to staff back up to full capacity.

“People are afraid to come back, you know, to daycare centers, because COVID-19 is still here," Ventura-Torres said. "And in probably, you know, other jobs in the area are offering more pay."

RELATED: 'We're running on a skeleton crew' | Virginia businesses reducing hours because of staffing shortages

Their nutrition director, Sara Farrand, said the nationwide supply shortages have reached their menu, too.

“We've had a lot of problems with the produce… Sometimes they come and it's not good. So we have to return them," Farrand said. "Since we make a monthly menu, sometimes it's really hard to program way ahead...This is not just one person, this is the whole system. That's the chain of supplies. Really bad, right? So we are getting the last part of it."

She said they have to outline their menu a month in advance due to government guidelines, but they've been flexible with the fluctuations in supply. Farrand said the worst part about the constant changing is the paperwork she has to submit documenting it all.

At the same time, some parents are struggling to find centers that have openings for their children.

“There are ratios, you can't just have 50 kids to one teacher. The state mandates a certain number for good reasons -- safety, and quality," founder of Child Care Counts, Debbie Brown said. "We just took one family on recently. And we both the mother and I made multiple phone calls and lots of places looked really great on their websites, and we called and none of them had infant openings, it was really tough. We did finally find one.”

Brown founded Child Care Counts to help primarily low-income families, many with single moms, in the D.C. Metropolitan region find and afford childcare.

“Child care is so essential for people to be able to get back to work," Brown said. "When there's a shortage, it's really tough on the whole country.”

Providers are doing their best to offer a spot for every child.

“We don't know how long, you know, this pandemic is gonna last. So we have to learn to live with it," Ventura-Torres said.

She said Barbara Chambers does have about 25 openings for children.

Still, they're looking for about 10 staff members to join the team.

She said another challenge they're facing is that many parents don't want to vaccinate their kids, so they're working to help educate and encourage them to keep kids and staff safe.

For the time being, parents still aren't allowed in classrooms. They drop off their kids at tents outside the center

Besides shortages, parents are dealing with huge expenses to cover child care in the region.

A recent Lending Tree report calculated that D.C. is the most expensive place for child care in the country when comparing states. Virginia and Maryland also made the top 10.

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