How a Buffalo child care center saved itself by closing temporarily
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More than two years after COVID-19 disrupted child care in America, Dasha Nadolinski made the decision to temporarily close down The Rose Garden Early Childhood Center, a business founded by her mother.
“It seemed like our best option was to close with plans to reopen if we could train and staff properly,” she said.
The worker-owned child care cooperative temporarily closed in the early days of the pandemic and then struggled with high staff turnover after reopening with new safety procedures.
“The workload was bigger than it used to be,” Nadolinski said. “I felt a lot of responsibility for the business being a healthy environment to work in, and it didn’t feel like it was that anymore.”
Though demand for child care workers is high, their pay is typically low — just over $13 per hour on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the industry still has not recovered the workers it lost during the pandemic: There were 88,000 fewer child day care workers in October of this year than in February of 2020.
Nadolinski said that a number of The Rose Garden’s long-term staff deciding to leave led to the company’s temporary closure starting in April. “It’s hard and scary and doesn’t feel good, but it seemed necessary to move us forward,” she said.
To move forward, the company needed a more sustainable staffing solution.
“We looked at our finances and realized that we were capable of paying a living wage,” said Shea Akers, who was hired as The Rose Garden’s new director earlier this year.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, the living wage in Buffalo is more than $17 per hour.
“We don’t want our staff to have to be doing two or three jobs and sacrifice their lives or their families,” Akers said.
So $17.49 per hour became the Rose Garden’s base pay. To accommodate higher labor costs, the center raised tuition as well. “We also committed to a plan of raising prices every three years,” Akers said.
Across the U.S. child care has become increasingly unaffordable for many families. A 2021 analysis by Childcare Aware found that in most states, the price of child care for two children exceeded annual housing payments by a wide margin.
When The Rose Garden reopened in September with higher tuition, not all of its clients returned.
“I would like it to be more accessible in regards to low-income [families]” Akers said. “And we have thought about various ways we can do that, whether it is with New York state or federal social services … [but] the balance between tuition and paying a living wage for our employees is always a delicate balance.”
For now, the co-op has two of its four classrooms open. “It felt very triumphant for me at least to be back open and hear children’s voices while we go about our work,” Nadolinsk said. “All of it felt like a return to what once was and what we had been working so hard for.”
Click the audio player above to hear Nadolinski and Akers tell their story.
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