Local daycare centers feel effects of 'Great Resignation'

Nov 1, 2021

Credit Randi B. Hagi

Some childcare centers in our area are bearing the brunt of the 'Great Resignation.' WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[Sounds of kids playing]

Paloma Saucedo, owner of Arcoiris Day Care in Harrisonburg, holds her daughter Emma.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

On a recent morning at Arcoiris Day Care in Harrisonburg, a small pack of kids played tag with their teachers and scooted around in Little Tikes cars. Owner Paloma Saucedo started the business out of her home a little more than two years ago, because she needed childcare for her youngest, Emma.

PALOMA SAUCEDO: I started to look around and get on waiting lists, but I couldn't find a place where I felt a hundred percent comfortable, and there were many factors -- I mean, we have great daycares. But I didn't find a daycare where she would be exposed to the Latinx culture, and culture and language are very important for us.

Arcoiris is a small operation --

SAUCEDO: We are licensed for 12 plus my own … so we have 13.

HAGI: Gotcha.

EMMA: Mama, you said we can go and walk.

SAUCEDO: Mas tarde.

Credit Randi B. Hagi

Saucedo has two full-time employees, which, with her there, is more than they're required to have.

SAUCEDO: I feel that, in order to provide high quality care, and really make connections with the children and have a lot of meaningful interaction, it's better when you have more adults that can do that.

They're the only daycare in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County that's gold level-certified with the Living Wage campaign -- they start workers at $15 an hour, and Saucedo said she's trying to get that up to 20. She also credits the work environment for keeping her employees around.

But Arcoiris is an outlier in the area -- the other four daycares who spoke with WMRA said they're either currently short staffed, or have been at some point during the pandemic. Angela Rouse, the executive director of the Roberta Webb Childcare Center, said they currently have eight staff, and she needs four more.

Angela Rouse is the executive director of the Roberta Webb Childcare Center in Harrisonburg.
Credit Angela Rouse

ANGELA ROUSE: Literally, I've hired my husband, who is a full-time employee at Costco. He works early mornings, and so when he gets off at 9:30, he comes to be able to help in one classroom … I am actually the director, but I'm the primary teacher in the four-year-old room because we had a teacher walk out after only being there 17 days. So I have three different roving people who come in and out to be able to support that classroom. So it is a nightmare.

The nonprofit is a United Way agency -- all of their programs are supported by grants, donations, and government funding, so tuition is free to the parents.

ROUSE: Which is a beautiful thing, but that means that we have lots of deliverables that these agencies want from us on top of, you know, making sure that children are safe, making sure that curriculum is done.

Which in turn makes hiring even more difficult. Rouse said they have had a lot of applications.

ROUSE: But I think people are just applying to satisfy maybe their unemployment, because half of them don't then show up for the interview, if you give them the time.

I heard the same thing from Joanne Hensley, co-owner of Angel's Korner in Front Royal. When she schedules interviews --

Credit Randi B. Hagi

JOANNE HENSLEY: Sometimes they come in, sometimes they don't. They come in, and they act really gung-ho over being employed, and then the first day, they just don't show up. And we have to do the paperwork. We do everything, we have to do a fingerprint, a criminal record, and then they don't even show up.

Angel's Korner has two locations: one that's licensed for 100 students, and one for 99. Currently, though, there are only about 90 kids between the two.

HENSLEY: Because of social distancing, and to be honest, employees.

Reagan Ralston with Bright Eyes Community Child Care Center near Charlottesville has also experienced the new hire bait-and-switch. She and her assistant director are currently working in the classrooms to keep things running. They need two more employees.

REAGAN RALSTON: We are at the bare minimum of staff that we can get through day to day. And it's been that way for about the last eight months.

She's planning to increase rates so she can give her employees a raise.

RALSTON:  We've also increased paid sick leave, we've increased paid vacation, we've increased how many holidays we have over the course of the year. So I'm trying to, you know, show them how much I appreciate them so that I can retain them, and also, by raising how much we pay per hour, hopefully invite new and qualified staff members to join us.

Erica Dorsey, president of Tots N Toyland in Harrisonburg, said hiring in the industry has always been difficult, in part because we ask so much of early childhood educators.

Erica Dorsey is president of Tots N Toyland in Harrisonburg.
Credit Erica Dorsey

ERICA DORSEY: Teachers in the childcare industry have to be experts in the fields of early growth development, data entry -- you have to log all the milestones and the eating habits and the naps … with that comes parent relations … be able to respond to that and give individualized care. …  you've got behavioral management for children who are exploring new environments and having trouble with emotional regulation.

She raises wages every year -- their current starting rate is $12 to $13, depending on experience.

DORSEY: It is always in the forefront of your mind, how to balance paying a liveable wage and supporting a teacher so that you get a quality worker, versus overburdening a family that cannot afford this particular rate.

It is, in Dorsey's words, a delicate balance.