HDFS News Research

Oregon’s emergency child care workforce remains diverse, but COVID worries persist

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By Molly Rosbach

A report on Oregon’s emergency child care during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that the workforce matches the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the non-emergency workforce.

The report, produced by Oregon State University researchers and commissioned by the state’s Early Learning Division, examined the characteristics of the more than 2,000 child care providers who were approved by the state to remain open to care for the children of emergency workers, including first responders, health care professionals and essential personnel.

About 31% of the emergency child care workforce is people of color, compared with 30% of the baseline 2018 workforce referenced in the report. Sixteen percent speak a primary language other than English, compared with 15% of the 2018 workforce.

It’s what we’d hoped we would find,” says Megan Pratt, who produced the report with Michaella Sektnan as part of the Oregon Child Care Research Partnership in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The good thing is that it looks like providers of color are getting through the system and are able to continue to provide child care.”

The child care workforce in Oregon is already more diverse than the state’s general adult population in terms of race, ethnicity and primary language, Megan says.

“We know that having a diverse workforce is very important for children and for families,” she says. “We know that families, especially immigrant families or families that speak a language other than English, are often interested in having that cultural congruence or language congruence between the provider and the family.”

In the emergency child care workforce, 39% of providers were working in home-based child care, a much larger proportion than the 23% home-based providers in the baseline 2018 workforce.

That matters because home-based providers are more likely to have flexible schedules and be willing to accommodate parents who are working in the jobs with unpredictable or nontraditional work hours, Megan says.

Small, home-based providers are also more likely to be people of color and to speak a language other than English, she says.

“So they serve a very important niche, and they’re a declining population in our state — it has been declining over the last 20 years,” Megan says.

The current pandemic has magnified the importance of investing in Oregon’s child care system, says Miriam Calderon, the state’s Early Learning System director.

“Additional public supports are necessary to keep children and providers safe, and especially needed in communities of color that have been the hardest hit by the virus,” Miriam says.

In addition to the health and safety guidelines issued by the governor’s office in late March, which required facilities to limit admittance to stable groups of 10 children or fewer, the Early Learning Division sent safety recommendations to all emergency child care providers and launched a new grant program using federal CARES Act funds to support child care programs operating emergency child care.

The guidance included procedures for sanitation of facilities and use of protective equipment; screening protocols for staff, children and families; adjustments to the ratio of providers to children to minimize the number of people within a facility; and encouragement to maintain 6 feet of social distancing and to hold activities outdoors whenever possible.

A follow-up survey the Early Learning Division sent to providers found that prioritizing essential workers, maintaining stable groups of 10 or fewer, and using PPE for staff were the hardest measures to implement.

While researchers and Early Learning leaders were encouraged by the report showing a diverse emergency child care workforce, they say there is still much to learn about how many providers have been laid off due to the shutdown and the demographics of those providers.

“I think the big concern — state, national, local, everyone — is recovery. How are these businesses going be able to open back up and survive, or what type of new businesses are going to have to be created?” Megan says. “I don’t think a lot of them know what they’re going to do.”