14 January 2023
For working parents with young children, it seems like the rest of the world has moved on from the pandemic.
But COVID-19 and other illnesses continue to cause disruptions in childcare. Such disruptions have severely affected these families' lives.
Kathryn Anne Edwards has a 3-year-old son who goes to daycare. He has missed 47 days of childcare in the past year.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19 and two outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease struck one after another. The illnesses were so disruptive that Edwards quit her full-time job. She now does independent contract work, which makes it easier to care for her son and her 4-month-old daughter when childcare is not available.
"The rest of the world has moved on from the crisis that I'm still in," said Edwards. "That's sometimes how it feels like to me."
In the first and second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines and isolations were common for many Americans. The arrival of vaccines for younger children and the end of quarantine requirements for COVID exposure were supposed to bring relief.
Instead, families have faced what some call a "tripledemic." Children's hospitals are filled up with patients with flu, COVID-19 and RSV. The diseases are now threatening the already stressed childcare system. It is also forcing parents to miss a lot of work.
A record-high 104,000 people missed work in October because of childcare problems, passing even early pandemic levels, federal data shows.
Missing work has hurt many parents' finances. Most of those who missed work in October because of childcare problems did not get paid. That information comes from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C.
Now, doctors are preparing for the number of sick children to rise after families gathered for the holidays.
Illnesses among teachers and children have put pressure on a childcare system that is already short on workers.
"This is the worst year I've ever seen in my entire life," said Shaunna Baillargeon. She is owner of Muddy Puddles Early Learning Program in Massachusetts. She faces "a constant battle of staff and children being sick with a different virus every day." There is often not even a substitute teacher available if the classroom teacher calls in sick, she added.
Jana Williams teaches at a day care center in Washington, D.C. She said illnesses have caused classroom shutdowns almost weekly since October. Her 19-month-old daughter also attends the day care and has been sick with the same viruses.
You want to stay home and care for your child," Williams said. "But then it's like, you have to get to work."
At the pandemic's peak, more than one-third of day care jobs were lost, Edwards said. Hiring has not fully recovered. As of November, the country had 8 percent fewer childcare workers than before the pandemic, federal data shows.
The current strong labor market has driven up the cost to hire new workers. That means childcare centers often cost a lot of money and openings are hard to find. And centers with openings may close when workers or kids are sick.
Disruptions due to illness can affect even very young children. Parents who are worried about their job or money can cause stress for a baby. This stress can in turn cause sleep, stomach and socialization problems, said Dr. Sherri Alderman. She is a developmental-behavioral doctor for children.
The continued crisis for young families causes parents to feel lonely, especially as other Americans' lives have returned to normal, said Lauren Hipp. She is with MomsRising, an advocacy group.
"I feel pretty angry about it," said Hipp, a mother of three. "To feel like society has passed you by is a really difficult and lonely feeling."
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
disruption — n. to cause to be unable to continue in the normal way
quarantine — n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
isolation — n. the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others
exposure — n. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something
relief — n. a pleasant and relaxed feeling that someone has when something unpleasant stops or does not happen
constant — adj. happening all the time or very often over a period of time
staff — n. a group of people who work for an organization or business
advocacy — n. the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal
society — n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values