For years employers and parents voiced concerns about the lack of child care in Douglas County, and now a coalition has formed to help those caring for the children.
“The lack of child care has been a huge issue for a long time, but has gotten worse since COVID-19 started,” said Kelly Heichel of Kelly’s Kid Care.
Heichel, who has run her business for 22 years, benefited from supports offered by the Douglas County Childcare Coalition. She has four staff members and room for 16 kids at a time, and said the financial impacts of COVID-19 have been significant.
“In the first two months of COVID-19, I lost $20,000 in income due to the reduction in numbers of children I was allowed to care for,” Heichel said. “In the last few months I was able to go back to 65% of my normal income, but I’m still not operating at full capacity.”
She said supplies and grants offered by the coalition made a huge impact on her business and allowed her to keep staff employed and provide quality care and education.
The Douglas County Childcare Coalition was formed to respond to the overall child care crisis in the area.
Julie Hurley, Biz4Kids program coordinator at Douglas Education Service District, and Heather Freilinger, care connections and education program coordinator with Douglas Education Service District, serve as the co-leads of the coalition. More than 30 organizations are included in the partnership, including businesses, nonprofits and public entities.
“This effort has helped partners understand our child care need from several angles, all of which inform resource allocation, COVID response, state advocacy and identifying the challenges we are facing,” Freilinger said.
The coalition started in response to the pandemic and in October the group was able to distribute 800 rolls of paper towels, nearly 25,000 paper plates and bowls, 80 gallons of bleach, 50 bottles of disinfectant spray, 100 packages of sanitizing wipes and countless pencils, pens, crayons, markers and glue sticks with the help of funding from the county.
“The county bought all the supplies that they needed: cleaning supplies, paper products, school supplies, some technology type stuff,” Hurley said.
The City of Roseburg made $30,000 available in grants for child care providers, which was distributed among five businesses that applied for funding.
Cobb Childcare and Preschool was one of the recipients of the grants. Jessica Gaul, who is the executive director at Cobb and a member of the coalition, said belonging to the partnership can drive progress, build support systems and present a network that can help both access to and foundational supports for high-quality child care services.
Hurley said that although responding to COVID-19 has been the primary purpose of the coalition, but they hope to be able to have a positive impact on child care in Douglas County long-term.
Gaul added, “The greatest resource the coalition can offer is to continue reiterating the importance of child care. As we have seen within the last year, without child care services many employees are unable to physically report to work. At the same time, child care is not prioritized as a top choice of employment for job seekers. The more importance that is placed on this critical service, the larger the staffing pool child care providers have to choose from, allowing us to continue providing consistent care during COVID and beyond.”
Staffing, training, advocacy and increasing the amount of care givers will be important parts of the long-term plan.
In the short term, Douglas County Childcare Coalition is looking into hosting a tax workshop for providers, because the pandemic likely impacted the way their taxes need to be filed. The coalition is also accepting personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and financial donations to help the providers in the area.
Anyone who’d like to donate can contact Hurley at 541-957-4819 or come by the Douglas Education Service District office on 1871 NE Stephens Street in Roseburg.
For those can’t donate, and those who can, Freilinger has some advice too, “One thing that is always a great support is to thank your local teacher, child care provider, early learning professional for caring for the youngest members of our society. We have some amazing providers in our community. Let’s celebrate them.”