A Provider’s Fight for Survival in Business – NBC 7 San Diego
Childcare and early education programs are a critical part of children’s well-being and are necessary for many families who are forced to work.
According to the latest data from the Kids Count Data Center, about two-thirds of children under the age of six in the United States have both parents employed.
The people caring for children are one of the most important factors in quality early childhood education, but they rarely feel recognized as such.
Sandra Cumplido’s day starts at 8am and ends well after 7pm. She looks after up to eight children, all under the age of three, seven days a week.
“They learn their ABCs, they learn their language,” Cumplido said. “I teach [them] English and Spanish. “[They] particularly [like lessons involving] Dance. Oh my god, they love to dance, especially to Mexican songs. They really like the cha-cha.”
She’s been doing the job for almost 30 years, but she still can’t afford to pay herself a decent salary.
“It’s a good thing I saved money,” Cumplido said. “It’s not a lot of money, but I have money. But I wish that as childcare workers we would be paid more. [At least] Minimum wage so I wouldn’t have to use my savings to support my assistants or buy essentials.”
Cumplido only serves low-income families who receive state-subsidized care. That means it relies on subsidies to fund its business. Normally, she says, she gets $257 a week per child under the age of two.
“You break down $257 into five days and it’s $51.40 a day,” Cumplido said. “Now divide that by 10 hours and it’s $5.14 an hour. That’s how much I get paid per child. And that’s for a toddler, less for toddlers, and less for preschoolers.”
Cumplido says she keeps less than half of her earnings. Most of it goes toward her rent, bills, groceries, diapers, and upkeep of her daycare. Their struggles are typical of educators who have long been among the lowest-paid workers in the country.
According to the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, childcare workers earn between $16,200 and $30,000 per year. The salaries of professionals in this business are below those of many housekeepers, fast food clerks, and retail workers.
Unemployment benefits are also often scarcer for childcare providers like Cumplido, which run small businesses from home. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, less than half of childcare workers have time off as part of their family arrangements. Only about one-fifth have retirement plans and at least 16% have no health insurance, compared to 8% of the entire US population without health insurance.
“I’m still here because I love my job,” Cmplido said. “And like I said, that’s my life, that’s what I know, that’s it. And I’m struggling, but I’m still there for my community and for the parents. I’m still here and I’m very passionate about it.”
But many childcare providers are finding that the numbers just don’t add up. Lori Borne closed the childcare program she ran from home last year.
“When the pandemic started, home nannies and nannies weren’t even addressed,” Borne said. “When it came to closing everything, the schools, the kindergartens, were approached, they were given resources, they were given information, but the early childhood education and home childcare facilities were not.”
For 22 years, Borne cared for small children in her care and meticulously instructed and educated them.
“We provided them with their nutrition, their education, their environmental enrichment, their scientific enrichment, just their everyday lives and prepared them for preschool,” Borne said.
When her landlord didn’t renew her lease, Borne was forced to drop her program and look for a new location.
“When you’re caring for kids at home, you rely on the money you can put aside,” Borne said. “There was no program for me to get money to move there, you know, [or] wait months for login to build up again.
According to research by Child Care Aware of America, her center was one of about 16,000 closures that took place nationwide between December 2019 and March 2021. In San Diego, 37 centers closed their doors and only 20 opened up in the first six months of 2021 alone. The closures are hitting the most vulnerable neighborhoods hardest.
A lack of support and funding is a common complaint from business people.
“One of the barriers is not providing timely notification to providers to get the resources they need to provide quality child care,” said Kathleen Tostado-Kenshur, owner of Encinitas child care business.
Tostado-Kenshur has been a supplier for over 45 years. She is on the board of several childcare groups and advocates for those working in this field.
“If I were the policy maker, I would make sure I account for inflation, would be more up-to-date, you know, [with the amount given to providers in subsidies,]’ Tostado-Kenshur said. “Really look at the bigger picture of what it takes to keep these guys in business.”
Tostado-Kenshur speaks of subsidized care, but there are many families who not only do not qualify for the benefits, but also cannot afford childcare.
NBC 7 reached out to the county to ask how they support the child care industry in San Diego and was introduced to Dezerie Martinez, who serves at the local Child Care and Development Planning Council.
“The council is tasked with putting together a plan, essentially recommendations, for the district board of supervisors and the district superintendent for schools to help them determine how best to move forward and support child care needs,” said Martinez.
Most recently, she says, the district board approved a plan to prioritize the workforce. The plan includes a proposal for tariff reform for childcare workers that includes support for professional wages and benefits commensurate with the provider’s expertise and commitment.
NBC 7 has also reached out to the State of California to ask if they are aware of the concerns childcare providers have expressed to us, and they responded with an April press release. The press release announced that they had awarded an additional $289 million to the child care industry, which benefited 27,000 providers of up to $10,000 in additional assistance.
Meanwhile, carers like Cumplido are sticking to their passion.
“You have to see what we do as childcare workers,” Cumplido said. “You will see, you will be amazed how hard we work.”
She hopes the support and recognition will come sooner rather than later.