Concerns rise over child care centers not being able to reopen

Researchers foresee long-term problems as many centers remain closed

BLACKSBURG, Va. – There are concerns that many local child care centers, like many other kinds of businesses, will not be able to reopen even once these restrictions are lifted.

Researchers and child care leaders at Virginia Tech said parents could face some problems if there aren’t enough centers open down the road. They’re worried that problems like worker shortages and low wages will now get worse long-term.

“The pandemic has highlighted an underlying crack in our society’s treatment of child care,” said Cindy Smith, a Virginia Tech professor who does research on young children.

But right now, centers need to survive the current conditions.

“There are just a lot of uncertainties right now. It makes us really nervous,” said Angie Muncy, the owner of Milestones Child Care in Floyd.

She had to close down the center on March 20 when the number of children dropped from 68 to 8. She still has businesses expenses even though she has no income.

“We were devastated. We’ve been in business for over 11 years,” Muncy said.

Now, with all the losses she’s facing, she’s afraid she may never reopen.

For the business to stay afloat, restrictions will have to loosen soon and families will need to return to their normal schedules. Many are worried that it may take some time for parents to decide to send their kids back to those environments.

“And, can they financially afford to come back to us when we do open? That’s going to be a hard pill for everyone to swallow,” said Muncy’s daughter Amanda Cluxton, who also works at Milestones.

Even though most centers in the region are closed, kids could be heard playing outside and inside at the Virginia Tech Child Development Center on Wednesday.

The center is open but has made some changes, including keeping kids in the same groups of 10 or fewer and using social distancing. Plus, parents aren’t coming inside the facility.

The staff feels fortunate that it can stay open, but is worried for the health of the whole career field.

“As a society we don’t value early childhood education,” Smith said. “We don’t value what the teachers are contributing to the care of these young children, and as these centers can hopefully reopen, and that’s a big hope, we’re going to have a really hard time staffing them with high-quality teachers.”

The thought among industry leaders that workers are underpaid has been around for years, even as new learning strategies continue to form to help children before they enter kindergarten -- like the ones the Virginia Tech staff showed 10 News last year.

The overall impact could affect hundreds of families across our region for months or years to come, researchers say.