Retention and recruiting still an issue for child care providers

The Anchorage Assembly is hosting a series of work sessions with organizations and individuals who received COVID-19 relief funding assistance through assembly
Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 7:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is hosting a series of work sessions with organizations and individuals who received COVID-19 relief funding assistance through assembly appropriations in 2021.

The Municipality of Anchorage is expecting more than $50 million in the next round of American Rescue Plan Act funds coming this spring, and some childcare providers in Anchorage are saying that recruitment and retention of staff, as well as just keeping their doors open are still some of the issues they are dealing with that they feel an infusion of funding could solve.

During the peak of COVID, some childcare providers in Anchorage saw a huge drop in enrollment. Camp Fire Alaska, which is known in Anchorage for its before and after school programs, was seeing more than 1,000 kids a day at its 28 locations before the pandemic.

“At the low point of the pandemic for us, there was about 90 youth a day. Last year at this time it was around 150, and today we were at 400 kids,” said Camp Fire Alaska COO Melanie Hooper.

Hillcrest Children’s Center Executive Director Christina Eubanks said she saw a similar trend: her enrollment went from 65 down to a low of six.

“At the beginning, it was just a lot of unsure about you know, the virus. We didn’t know a lot at that point in time. So there are jobs that , we had several who lost their employment, and then a lot just went to work remote,” Eubanks said.

She adds there was a real fear about her center possibly having to close its doors.

“Absolutely. It was absolutely what was going to happen. It took a substantial investment from that state and the muni into childcare centers for us to even be open to be here,” Eubanks said.

More than two years into the pandemic, Hooper said recruitment and retention is still an issue. She says right now, only 15 of their 28 sites are open, and she has about 65 employees.

“Really to get where we need to be, we probably need to be back up around 140 to 150 staff to meet the need. We were seeing between 120 and 140 staff pre-pandemic,” Hooper said.

She adds fear about COVID-19 and shifts in the workforce that have attributed to the worker shortage. However, she thinks a huge impact was when Camp Fire went from a before and after school program to nine months of full-day operations when the Anchorage School District shut down due to COVID-19 in March 2020.

“Then when we shifted back over to the before and after school February of 2021, for a lot of people they didn’t want to move back to the before and after school shift. That’s been a barrier I think the before and after school field faces in general. It’s a split shift,” Hooper said.

She adds that in a competitive job market with workers transitioning to higher-paying jobs, an infusion of funds would help with the recruitment and retention of staff.

“We have done everything from moving the pay scale to create more competitive wages, increased professional development opportunities, there’s benefits around COVID pay for staff,” Hooper said.

Eubanks says her center is fully staffed due to using previous COVID-19 relief funds to increase wages, but that might not be sustainable for her without another round of funding.

Hooper said something she has been doing to recruit staff is shifting to focus to bring leaders into the field early to develop skill sets.

“So we are very actively hiring 16, 17-year-olds, but we are also trying to diversify the perception of who works with kids because anyone can work with kids,” said Hooper. “Maybe you are retired. Maybe you are looking for something just for your afternoons, or just for your mornings to get your day going.”

Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said the child care situation in Anchorage is “really interesting and scary” one, and she and others are evaluating the information from the work sessions and how they can help.

She adds they will be doing the work sessions over the next two months, and her apriority is getting funds to organizations with foreseeable problems.

“I think we will receive the money just by the beginning of May, but we will want to be doing these sessions like we are leading up to that, so we have a sense of kind of where the need in the community is,” Quinn-Davidson said.

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