Surviving COVID-19: A Qualitative Study of Child Care Providers’ Experiences with the Pandemic and the Policies Intended to Save the Child Care Industry



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Background: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, early childhood education was already a fragmented, complex system. The social and political responses to the pandemic have intensified these problems and highlighted the importance of this industry to children’s wellbeing and the functioning of society. However, child care providers are struggling to avoid permanent closure due to financial losses. Child care is crucial for families and communities, particularly in the disaster recovery process. Yet the industry has not achieved recognition as an essential economic sector and therefore tends to receive little government support and funding for recovery. The pandemic has provided an opportunity to advocate for policies that will make the child care industry capable of not only surviving the pandemic but also providing affordable, sustainable, equitable, high-quality early childhood education services. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of COVID-19 and the policies implemented in response to it on the individuals who operate child care programs under those policies that are implemented to support families and protect the industry from collapse. Additionally, this study explores providers’ beliefs about measures that could support the industry as the pandemic continues and into the future. This analysis has the potential to assist policymakers in making better-informed decisions regarding early childhood policy, particularly related to funding. The research questions that guided this study were: (1) What are child care providers’ perceptions of the impact of early childhood policies and programs related to COVID-19 on the care and education of the children in their care? (2) What are child care providers’ perceptions of the impact of early childhood policies and programs related to COVID-19 on their business and staff? (3) What are child care providers’ perceptions of the government’s ongoing role in recovering from the pandemic and preparing for potential disasters in the future? Methods: This study employed basic qualitative research design. Five directors of licensed child care centers in the Houston area participated. The data included a questionnaire, a series of interviews, and an analysis of documents, such as the centers’ COVID protocols. The researcher used Carspecken’s (1996) method for thematic analysis to code data and identify recurring themes. Trustworthiness was achieved through peer debriefing, consistency checks, member checks, and iterative coding. Findings: Analysis of the data revealed that the providers had to change their operational practices and budgets to remain open through the pandemic. The centers relied on outside funding, such as the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program as well as donations, to avoid closure. While they remain hopeful that they will begin to see a return to normal operations and enrollment in the coming year, the providers also expressed concern that their centers, and the child care industry, lack the financial ability to maintain the workforce that is necessary to provide high-quality care and education. Conclusion: The stories of child care centers that have survived the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far indicate that financial assistance from the federal government is crucial to the disaster recovery process for the centers and the families they serve. Policy recommendations are included for restoring child care after a disaster as well as developing a highly qualified and adequately compensated workforce of early childhood educators to improve equitable access to high-quality early childhood education.



child care, Coronavirus, COVID-19, disaster recovery, equity, pandemic