Child care providers in Omaha plan next steps against state’s proposal

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 1:52 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A lot of tension, frustration and emotion was poured into a meeting of the minds between several child care providers in the Omaha metro area Thursday.

Many of them say they’re scrambling to find answers for themselves, and barely have details to pass along to their concerned parents about a proposal from Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to reduce capacity from providers across the state.

“Parents brought it to our attention first. That’s super embarrassing,” Amanda Hull said.

She, along with the providers, said they were blindsided by the 250-page proposal of sweeping changes and the state gave them no warning, no guidance and no reason to alter the staff-to-child ratio.

Chelsey Inzauro said, “All of my children have a relationship with all of their teachers and love them. I had a parent come in crying today, wondering if their child would get cut because they’re on Title 20.”

That’s the subsidy that helps low-income families afford child care. Inzauro said child care is already hard to find, and many of the families she serves don’t have the resources to just switch providers. They’re on strict budgets and need to work. Any interruption of service could have ripple effects, she said.

The meeting among providers grew emotional, with many of them arriving at painful realizations that some tough decision would be made if the proposal actually comes to fruition.

“If we are forced to do this, who do we pick? How do we pick? How do we tell parents?” asked Nicole Wilson, a child care provider, as she held back tears.

All of the early child care educators agreed the proposal seems random. Each of them already meets the state’s current child-to-staff ratio and argues this change, would not offer better care as the state suggests — but would instead uproot children who’ve been through an incredibly rough year.

Jacque Casey, the director of Crayon Castle in Florence, and the person who called the meeting, said the pandemic “nearly destroyed these children. Some of my most passive children ended up being almost wild animals. They were depressed and had no way to vent. They didn’t understand what was happening. We had a couple cutters ... young kids ... cutting themselves.”

The room immediately fell silent, as the group stated again that their children need stability and support more than anything right now.

Concern over the proposal driving up child care costs was also highlighted.

If child care centers have to cut a third of their capacity, they will have to charge higher rates and lay off staff.

Many of them said it’s already hard enough to find good employees and that many people won’t come back because they make more money from unemployment. They said they had barely just got their footing back after COVID-19 forced them to close.

The meeting ended with a consensus to draft a letter to the governor against the proposal, detailing the negative impacts of the plan and requesting hard data about why the change was even considered in the first place.

Some of the business owners are also even considering closing their centers for a day and asking parents to join them at the next public hearing as they try appeal to Nebraska DHHS.

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