Child care providers are still closed and Virginia’s labor force is declining. What happens if parents can’t go back to work?

Child care providers are still closed and Virginia’s labor force is declining. What happens if parents can’t go back to work?
Teachers in masks care for children in the infant room at a daycare run by The Children's Center, a nonprofit child care program in the Hampton Roads region. (Source: The Children's Center)

Until the pandemic hit, Cate Garstang said her life was going pretty normally. She gave birth to her son, Andy, in May 2019 and was back to work as an office assistant in Richmond by the end of July. For the next several months, Andy was in daycare while Garstang and her husband worked.

Then came March, and Virginia’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19. “We were watching and waiting, watching and waiting, and kind of starting to get more and more uncomfortable with the situation,” Garstang said. “But our daycare was saying they couldn’t close until the health department told them they needed to close.”

That never happened. Child care providers, in fact, were specifically exempted from Gov. Ralph Northam’s K-12 school closure order. But a few weeks in, with so much still uncertain, she and her husband decided to pull their son out of daycare. Garstang said her company initially told employees they could use remaining vacation and sick time, so that’s what she did, assuming her bosses would finalize a formal work-from-home policy.

“Then, a couple of weeks after that, they sent me an email saying I didn’t qualify for family leave and they couldn’t keep me on,” Garstang said. She’s been home with her son ever since. For the first month and a half, she was actively looking for another job, but eventually — and especially after learning she was pregnant again — Garstang said the family decided they’d try to make it work with her staying at home full-time.

“It’s very, very, very tight and it’s not sustainable for the long-term future,” she said. But finding another daycare during the pandemic — one that was more affordable for the family — seemed just as challenging.

“There were already so few options,” she added. “Everything that we looked at was either full for years out or the prices were astronomical or it was some sketchy person from Facebook who wanted to watch our kid in their house. And now, I know a lot of places have closed, and that makes it even harder to get a spot and even more expensive when you do.”

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