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April 06, 2020

Nebraska Survey Finds High Levels of Stress for Child Care Providers During COVID-19 Pandemic

More Than 2,100 Early Care and Education Workforce Members  Share Their Experiences of Providing Care in a Crisis

Omaha, Neb. — Nebraska’s early care and education workforce, a profession already chronically undervalued and underpaid, is experiencing very high stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska today released initial findings from a statewide survey in Nebraska that assesses how early care and education providers are impacted by COVID-19.  

The Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey was designed to increase understanding of the concerns and needs of those providing early care and education in the early days of the pandemic. More than 2,100 surveys were completed online within one week by teachers, child care providers, and administrators of home-based and child care centers. The primary question guiding this first release of the survey data is, “How are providers in family child care homes and child care centers experiencing the effects of COVID-19?” 

Released March 20, the statewide survey was placed in the field in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nebraska and prior to congressional passage of the CARES Act that authorized economic relief to many sectors of the economy. Survey findings capture the concerns of providers at a unique point in time and provide a window into the widespread concerns about the coronavirus and its perceived impact on early care and education programs, most of which function as home- or center-based small businesses. 

Findings show that child care providers are facing incredible stress linked to economic insecurity, threat of health problems, and a lack of reliable information, according to the survey director, Kate Gallagher, who is also director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute.   

“The survey findings are compelling and heart-wrenching, and speak to the urgency for economic relief and health supports for providers who serve a backbone role for our state’s economy,” said Gallagher. “Most child care programs operate as small businesses in Nebraska and are essential for parents and their employers. It is imperative to prioritize their needs, especially when we are looking to providers to care for the children of our medical providers, emergency responders, and other essential personnel.” 
Key findings include: 

Providers are experiencing very high levels of stress. Most child care centers (69%) and 44% of family care homes report very high levels of stress related to the effects of COVID-19.

Providers are worried about the survival of their businesses and their economic stability. Most providers (80%) said that families are keeping their children at home, which reduces program income and the viability of their program. Center-based (15%) and family home providers (21%) said their program would not survive a closure of any length, and up to 57% of providers said they did not expect to be paid during a closure.

Providers said that they cannot live without their current wages. Many providers shared that they would be unable to cover their next mortgage/rent payments for their homes/businesses. Half of family care homes and 70% of center providers reported that reduction in attendance of children receiving child care subsidy resulted in reduced program income.

Providers are very concerned about their health. If they become ill from the coronavirus, most do not have health insurance or paid sick time to cover their medical expenses and work absence. Most child care center administrators (70%) report that staff do not have access to employersponsored health insurance, and fewer than 25% of providers have paid sick time.

Providers are very concerned about being exposed to COVID-19. Nearly all center-based teachers (93%) expressed concern about families bringing sick children to care, and many providers said that they were worried about getting sick and bringing illness home to their families.

Providers made clear that “social distancing” does not make sense for children in child care. Offered an opportunity to provide open-ended responses, many providers said that social distancing could not work in child care settings. Some asked for clarification on the 10-person and 6-foot rule in settings with young children that were announced after the survey was released to the field.

Providers are accessing information on COVID-19 from a variety of sources, including media outlets and government websites, but fewer than half reported receiving personalized information from a reliable source. Providers said that they desired information from a single, reliable source. According to Gallagher, there are a number of immediate steps that could be taken to meet the needs of providers during the current pandemic, including income replacement for providers and staff, immediate guarantees for continued income for Title XX child care subsidies, temporary relief from some child care regulations, and coverage for health care expenses and sick leave. In addition, she said providers need health protections for themselves and the children and families they serve, including access to COVID-19 testing, thermometers, masks, and cleaning supplies. 
“While Congress has passed the CARES Act, it may not provide sufficient supports for child care programs, especially those operated by self-employed providers and those for whom small business loans may not be viable,” said Gallagher. “The effects of COVID-19 are devastating an essential and already vulnerable sector serving Nebraska. Without serious, substantive support, the worry is that in a state already experiencing a shortage of quality child care options, many child care programs will close permanently.” 
Summary highlights from the Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey are available at Additional analyses are forthcoming, including analyses that show providers’ experiences of COVID-19 in different communities across the state. 

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