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Incline Village preschool director shares pandemic impacts on child care providers

Lucy Comstock, daycare owner, is sitting in the KUNR studio to the left of a microphone with a window behind her.
Kaleb Roedel
KUNR Public Radio
Lucy Comstock, director at Incline Village Nursery School, inside the KUNR studios on November 17, 2021.

While some child care facilities in our region are full, with waiting lists, others are struggling with enrollment. Lucy Comstock is the director at Incline Village Nursery School, a child care facility for children aged 3 to 5 in North Lake Tahoe. Comstock spoke with our business reporter Kaleb Roedel about the financial and staffing challenges they’re facing during the pandemic.

Kaleb Roedel: What are the biggest impacts the pandemic has had on the child care industry over these past two years?

Lucy Comstock: For us, one of the biggest things would be enrollment, which then affects our finances, which then affects the ability to operate our facility and a high quality educational capacity. Truly, one of the biggest things we see is that we've operated in the red for two years. Luckily, we have a deep well of fundraising in our community that we've been able to draw upon, and the PPP loans from the federal government have helped keep us afloat.

Normally, our numbers in our older class at a full enrollment would be 26 children. We currently have six children enrolled who pay for their spots, and we have two scholarship children, giving us a total of eight enrolled. And, in our younger group, we have only 13, and normally we would have 24.

Roedel: And how have all of those challenges affected the people, like yourself, working in the industry?

Comstock: I would say it has definitely burned out a lot of workers. I have known several employees in my previous company, who left the industry entirely and went to, like, office jobs, medical field jobs. And they just got out because it was too draining physically, emotionally, mentally, whatever it was, for them personally. It was too draining to operate in the childcare facility capacity anymore, and that's a loss for us, because those are teachers that we had invested in for years at a time in some cases, that had experienced that you can't replicate in a new hire, and that leadership and mentorship that they could have offered to new employees entering the workforce.

Roedel: And what potential impacts can that have on the kids?

Comstock: Well, it means that the children might not have as high quality teachers, or knowledgeable teachers who have the same skill sets that are necessary for understanding their skill and ability level. A lot of people come in and might not know what normal developmental milestones are for these children, and that expectation can be hard when a teacher has an expectation of a child that doesn't match up with that child's ability level.

So, if you have a child who's on the spectrum, or you have a child who has [Oppositional Defiant] Disorder, and you've never experienced that in your life, you don't have the skills and abilities to connect with that child where they are, and then their learning environment suffers because of it. And they might not get to a point of managing those developmental issues, if they don't have a teacher who knows how to manage those developmental issues, but if you have someone who's brand new that year, and they don't have any of that knowledge or experience, then that child's learning environment could be harmed for that whole year that they're there.

Roedel: There are national polls out there that show one in three working families are struggling to find the child care that they need. What are some things that should be done or need to be done to help change that?

Comstock: I definitely think that the definition of poverty has to change that. That benchmark, numerically, needs to be much higher for families. Because, as we all know, if you're a family of four, and you only have $40,000 a year, especially in Reno, that's, basically, functionally poverty. Because given those numbers, they don't qualify for aid in Medicaid, they don't qualify for food stamps, they don't qualify for rental assistance, and, now, they wouldn't qualify for child care assistance.

Roedel: It seems like it took a pandemic to shine a light on how broken the child care system is in the U.S. Has this crisis, perhaps, quietly been happening for some time?

Comstock: Absolutely, and I think that one of the things is that child care starts from birth; you need child care from the time your child is born, so that you can either work or stay home. And now families are having to choose to stay home because the cost of child care is so high, especially in the infant range. Basically, putting an infant in care is like paying rent for your baby; it’s about as much as some people pay in rent. And, so, the choice has been hard for a long time on families to choose whether or not their child could get a quality early childhood education based on cost, or whether or not they just simply have to keep them home.

That was KUNR’s Kaleb Roedel speaking with Lucy Comstock, the director of Incline Village Nursery School. Kaleb is doing ongoing coverage of the regional child care crisis. If you are a parent who’s been impacted by the situation and are interested in sharing your experience, email us at news@kunr.org or call us at 775-682-6300.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.