Child care centers face demand, challenges as new year begins

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The return to virtual learning for Milwaukee Public Schools has forced some parents to look for child care options as COVID-19 continues to disrupt education operations.

"We have a lot of students here who have siblings who are school-aged, so of course we kept those spots available for them just in case […] MPS would have to go virtual," Alicia Knox, a coordinator at A Promising Future Early Education Center, told CBS 58.

The center on the city's west side has stayed open throughout the pandemic and has many clients who need the organization's help with the return of virtual learning.

"We do have parents who do work in the health care field, some work at the hospital," Knox said. "So, we understand that the hospital does not close, the health care facilities do not close and they do have to go in and continue to go to work."

The center said it has open enrollment and is able to take in more children.

For other parts of southeastern Wisconsin, there are other challenges.

"It has been a difficult start to the new year for us," Lisa Clarke, the administrator and CEO of Ozaukee Child Care and Preschool, told CBS 58.

The organization has also been able to stay operating throughout the pandemic, but now faces staffing obstacles as the omicron variant spreads.

"Coming back, starting this week we've had several staff who have had to remain out, either because of a positive COVID test or close contact with family members," Clarke said.

The child care and early childhood education industry already faced labor issues before the pandemic, but COVID-19 put a further strain on the field.

Clarke said Ozaukee Child Care and Preschool has tried to address the issue through recruitment efforts and raising wages. Clarke added that staff already on hand have pushed through challenges with teamwork and through overtime. The efforts have left her with pride in her team.

"Just to see everyone to come together like that for the children has been really heartwarming, and makes me feel like we're going to get through this together and keeps me optimistic," Clarke said.

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