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Washington child care centers struggle to stay afloat during pandemic

Some Washington child care facilities faced with a staffing crisis, and others are having trouble keeping enrollment up.

AUBURN, Wash. — Thousands of child care facilities across the U.S. and hundreds in Washington state have shut down permanently as a result of the pandemic.

According to a survey from the National Association of Education for Young Children, more than 20,000 daycare centers across the United States have shut down for good.

In Washington state, 418 licensed programs are not accepting children now or are temporarily closed.

Parents everywhere are now struggling to find child care.

"We are turning children and families away daily," said Irene Danner, the director of Little Jack's Corner in Auburn. "No one's got space, so it's not exclusive to me."

RELATED: COVID-19 cases among children force Washington childcare centers to temporarily close

Meanwhile, some child care centers that are still holding on say they do have the space, but don't have the enrollment. Deeann Puffert, the CEO of Child Care Aware of Washington, said some parents are not ready to put their kids back in daycare while COVID-19 still spreads in the community.

"If schools really do reopen this fall I think that's going to help a lot of families to go, 'Ok, this is going ok. Maybe this can be ok too,'" Puffert said.

She said the child care industry was already operating on a thin margin before the pandemic. Now many that are still open are also facing a staffing shortage on top of everything else.

"You just knock the blocks out from underneath what was already a bit of a precarious business model," she said. "You can't just hire anybody; you have to hire someone who brings expertise."

Danner said she has also had trouble staffing her daycare.

"We did lose five of our team members during the pandemic and have not filled those positions all up, but we were able to maintain through creative scheduling and setting up classrooms in creative ways to make it all work," said Danner.

Some industry experts now hope that government funding coming in to help these child care centers will stabilize the industry.

"I think that's going to provide a little longer period of time that people can persist if you will and keep their businesses open," said Puffert.

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