High-Quality Programs Still Struggle to Retain Staff and Keep Doors Open

Sisters Minerva Waldron and Veronica Manfredi are co-owners of Over the Rainbow, a family-owned child care program with locations in Providence and Johnston. Before the pandemic, their centers always had at least 20 families seeking enrollment on their waitlist. 

However, even after they were allowed to reopen a few months into the pandemic, families were still scared to send their children back. “We tried to reassure families that their children are safe and that we’re taking all the necessary precautions, but they just weren’t coming back,” said Minerva. “We’re still not at full enrollment. The temporary rates provided by DHS are keeping us open. Without the increased rates, many centers like us would have permanently closed.” 

The pandemic also heightened staffing issues that were widespread throughout the child care industry even before the pandemic due to low pay ($12.01/hour is the average pay for a child care educator in Rhode Island). During the last year, Over the Rainbow lost several staff members who couldn’t afford to pay for child care for their own school-age children who were suddenly distance learning. Other staff left because they were afraid to be in a classroom during a pandemic with young children who do not reliably wear masks. In an industry that demands a lot from workers but is not structured to pay them competitive salaries, the loss of highly qualified child care staff is challenging. 

Minerva and Veronica consider themselves lucky to have many highly qualified, experienced early childhood educators who have worked for them for years. “We are very grateful to our hardworking staff who pour their heart and soul into nurturing and teaching young children,” said Minerva. “Even before the pandemic, we’ve unfortunately had staff members forced to make the difficult decision to leave the child care industry in order to better financially support their family with higher-paying jobs. It shouldn’t be that way.” 

Minerva and Veronica hope that Rhode Island legislators recognize how crucial it is to ensure child care programs and early childhood education programs receive rates that meet federal equal access standards so they can serve children from low-income families and retain high-quality early education educators. 

“Child care providers don’t get enough credit,” said Veronica. “Without adequate child care options, the economy comes to a halt. With no one to care for their children, parents can’t stay in the workforce, and the entire economy is affected.”