Childcare in Rural America

This is part of an ongoing series regarding issues in southern West Virginia.

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Childcare in rural America Canva infographic Greenbrier West Cavtalk 2021 Lee Cline

Lee Cline, writer/reporter/editor

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the necessity of childcare for our modern economy. As schools shut down across the country, and even around the world, parents and guardians scrambled to secure caregivers for their children. For students and families of Western Greenbrier County, lack of childcare has been problematic for quite some time.

In rural America, one of the leading issues today is the lack of childcare. Greenbrier County is fortunate to be the home of Lewisburg, West Virginia, named America’s “coolest small town” by Budget Travel Magazine. However, the county has only 6 childcare providers, 5 of which are located on the eastern end, near Lewisburg. Currently, the only childcare provider in Western Greenbrier County is the newly opened Marvel Center, located in Rupert, West Virginia. The disparity of funding, housing, and career options available on the coal and timber-dominated western end of the county versus the more upscale eastern end are what differentiates the two sides of the county, yet both paint a bigger picture of rural America as a whole. In fact, 60 percent of rural Americans live in a childcare desert, defined as an area where there are 3 young children for every licensed childcare slot or no licensed child care providers at all.

Teens who are required to take care of their siblings due to the lack of childcare in our area are at a disadvantage and will oftentimes struggle to keep up with their peers.

The Marvel Center grounds (Photo by Lee Cline)

Certain characteristics of rural communities, such as smaller program sizes and dispersed populations, can make it difficult for rural child care providers to meet community needs or to stay afloat financially. For example, home-based child care programs typically have a maximum capacity of from 6 to 12 children, which may be too small to meet demand in some areas. In other areas, however, there may not be enough families to fill a program, leaving child care providers with too little revenue to cover operating costs such as rent, utilities, and teachers’ salaries. And because rural families are dispersed over greater distances than families in metropolitan areas, some families struggle to find a conveniently located provider, with 1 in 5 families in rural areas citing location as their primary reason for difficulty finding child care (Schochet, 2019).

COVID-19 statistics (Infographic by Lee Cline)

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, many child care businesses closed in response to the steep drop in demand. At the same time, state and local governments identified child care as a key service for frontline workers with young children (Grunewald, 2020). This pandemic highlighted areas that were already in need of childcare services, such as Western Greenbrier County. Before the pandemic, the only childcare options available for families on the western end were schools, and older relatives such as grandparents. With school closures and fatality rates for the older population, these childcare options cease to exist.

Parents may have older children in the house to babysit or take care of the younger children, but this can pose a problem as well. “Babysitting takes a lot of time from schoolwork,” says Haylee Robinson, a 10th grader at Greenbrier West High School. “If you’re babysitting during the day, you have a lot of distractions: there are kids screaming, crying, needing you, and they need taken care of. You have to put all your attention on them to make sure nothing happens to them, so while all your attention is on them, you can’t put attention on schoolwork. After a long day of babysitting, you’re tired and are way too exhausted for school work.” Teens who are required to take care of their siblings due to the lack of childcare in our area are at a disadvantage and will oftentimes struggle to keep up with their peers.

COVID-19 will leave a lasting impact on rural communities, even further underlining the desperate need for childcare services. Affordable, quality childcare can negate the impact of COVID-19 on families, as well as nurturing economic growth and early childhood learning for the future.

 

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Grunewald, Rob. “COVID-19 Challenges the Child Care Market.” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 22 Apr. 2020, www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2020/covid-19-challenges-the-child-care-market.

Schochet, Leila. “5 Facts To Know About Child Care in Rural America.” Center for American Progress, 21 Oct. 2019, www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/news/2019/06/04/470581/5-facts-know-child-care-rural-america/.

https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-deaths-older-adults.html