WESTCHESTER, Calif. — Working with children every day isn’t for everyone, but for Tracie West, it’s a calling.
“I love my job,” West said. “I mean, this is my life, this is, it’s a gift.”
For years, West worked as a teacher and ran large day care centers before she opened First Friends By The Sea in her rented home in West Los Angeles 15 years ago. At the time she cared for about a dozen children.
Three years ago, she opened a second location on the campus of the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Westchester exclusively for infants, but when the pandemic hit, West had to shut everything down.
“Being away from the kids was so devastating,” she said. “Just to not be able to do that and care and provide.”
West reopened in June, but due to new teacher-child ratio guidelines issued by the state during the pandemic, she could not have as many children in her home day care. Further, some parents chose not to send their kids back, and with less income and no luck getting a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, West couldn’t afford the $7,000 rent.
“It’s really stressful,” West said. “We put our personal bills on hold and we just made a lot of adjustments, moving out of the house, giving up our family daycare that I’ve had forever.”
Luckily, a classroom opened up on the church campus where West ran her infant daycare and the rent was several thousand dollars cheaper. She received a temporary waiver from the state and moved her preschoolers there but she’s waiting on a license for the new space. West said licensing requirements include showing at least three months operating expenses, which she doesn’t have, but she’s hopeful she can get some help from Los Angeles County.
Earlier this week, the county launched the $5 million COVID-19 CARES Act Childcare Provider Grant Program, which will give 225 lottery-based grants to 150 family child care homes and 75 licensed child care centers. Licensed centers can receive $40,000, and family child care homes can receive $10,000.
The financial help comes at a crucial time when many day care provides are struggling according to Sonia Madix, a Resource and Referral Supervisor with Connections for Children.
“Because of having to do the extra work, the lower ratios, just everybody is so uncertain right now, guidance changes so fast,” Madix said.
Guidelines from the state Community Care Licensing Division require child care centers keep a ratio of 10 children to one teacher, which means a reduction in revenue for centers who could previously accept more children. Also, health and safety guidelines means staff must spend additional time sanitizing classrooms every day with cleaning supplies, adding to costs for owners.
Many child care centers are having a difficult time coping with the strain of the new changes. In L.A. County, at least 60 percent of family child care home businesses remained open and only 30 percent of day care centers are operating according to the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles. Across the state, 40 percent of child care centers have either permanently or temporarily closed as of August 31st according to the California Department of Social Services.
Madix said child care centers are essential for working parents, which make up about a third of the U.S. workforce.
“If a family can work, it takes a lot of pressure off them, you know, financially,” Madix said. “It also helps them support the economy so child care is essential on many different levels.”
That’s why West drives an hour every day from Ventura, where she moved for more affordable housing, to keep her day care going.
“You are parenting their children and the parents need support, the kids need support. You are their community,” West said.
Editor’s Note: After this story was published, we received some new information about 40 percent of child care centers being permanently or temporarily closed as of Aug. 31. We have updated the story to reflect the new information. (Sept. 29, 2020)