A critical shortage of child care, worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, remains a serious problem for many Outer Cape parents.
Families found themselves stuck when schools and child-care centers closed. Many of them are still stuck, because local child-care options remain well below their normal levels, even as the pandemic has eased.
The Cape Cod Children’s Place in Eastham has fewer spots and a shorter schedule than usual. Classrooms are now functioning 6.5 hours a day rather than the usual 9 hours. The nonprofit is offering only half the normal number of places — accommodating 21 children versus 42 per day, said Assistant Director Liz Stapleton.
Enrollment in Provincetown’s free summer infant-to-three-year-old child care for residents and Provincetown staff remains below the usual levels.
In both cases, the reason is not Covid-19 restrictions, which the state has lifted. Cape Cod Children’s Place has been turning down families every day because of a staff shortage, which was always there, but has become much worse in the pandemic.
“Our workforce is so depleted,” Stapleton said. Potential staff began to think “it is not worth it to risk my life for $13 an hour,” she added.
Provincetown Schools Supt. Suzanne Scallion said the town’s infant and toddler program has a waiting list because she cannot find staff for it. Three child-care workers have returned to watch the babies and toddlers as part of Provincetown’s free program for town employees and residents. Scallion wanted to bring on two more employees, but both backed out before their first day when they could not find places to live.
“It is an absolute crisis,” Scallion said. “We cannot hire staff.”
A full-time child-care position in Provincetown pays $40,000 a year, which is the highest in the region, Scallion said. The position does not require a master’s degree; child-care workers need only to take a few required certification courses. Salaries for most child-care workers hover around $30,000, according to Sandy Faiman-Silva, organizer of the Cape and Islands effort to pass the sweeping child-care reform bill known as Common Start.
But so far, even $40,000 is not enough to lure new employees to care for the littlest ones.
So, what are parents to do, particularly the most vulnerable ones? One young mother from Jamaica said she had to quit her job when she could not get a spot in Provincetown’s infant and toddler program for her baby. Her attempt to arrange private care for her three-month-old failed because the sitter was overwhelmed with too many children. This mother, who is 19 and grew up in Provincetown, asked that her name be withheld because of her insecure housing situation.
“I will be OK,” she said when asked about her ability to pay her bills.
The young mother and baby live with seven other people on the first floor of a small house. More live upstairs. This is not a situation she wants to be in.
Living on her own with a baby “is harder than I thought it would be,” she said.
Many other parents who come here from Jamaica to work on H-2B visas send their children back to the island in the summer to live with grandparents. They work 12-hour days to take advantage of plentiful summer jobs.
“They have no time for children,” said Cassandra Miller, who lives in Jamaica and Wellfleet.
Pastor David Brown, who preaches at the Chapel on the Pond in North Truro, said he raised four children, moving back and forth from Jamaica to Provincetown with his wife. His youngest child, Shelice Brown, just graduated from Brandeis University. Living apart from your children “is very hard,” he said.
“It is a sacrifice we make to better our future,” he said. “But you cannot make up for what you’ve lost.”
While the so-called American dream comes true for some, there are also horror stories, the pastor said.
“But all of us from Jamaica are ambitious people,” Brown said. “We have the desire to excel in life and we make sacrifices. Unfortunately, the children get caught up in that sacrifice.”
In the end, he added, it is worth it for them: “Out of the bitter cup you can drink sweet honey.”
Town recreation programs are also not operating at full steam. Brandon Motta, Provincetown’s recreation director, said he is taking only 80 students this summer rather than the pre-Covid maximum of 125. The smaller enrollment is to keep kids organized into cohorts by age group, and to limit exposure to different groups. There have been no new Covid cases in the summer camp, Motta said.
Wellfleet recreation only offers morning hours, as always, and so is not helpful for working parents.
Truro and Eastham recreation are operating at reduced capacity because they, too, cannot hire enough staff.
Motta said he recruited employees this year by signing up a few 14-year-olds who had valid work permits. Ordinarily, he would never hire anyone under 16. But this year was not normal, and he felt he had enough senior staff to supervise the younger employees, he said.