Salem again sees decline in number of child care providers

Children play outside at the Oregon Child Development Coalition’s North Lancaster preschool on March 20, 2020 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The number of child care providers in the Salem area continues to decline in 2021, more than a year after the Covid pandemic forced many providers to shut their doors.

That means fewer spots available for parents seeking childcare, which was often difficult to come by even before the pandemic.

As of July 22, Marion County had 304 active child care or early learning providers, according to the state’s Early Learning Division, and Polk County had 69.

That’s down from 322 Marion County and 78 Polk County providers in April 2021, and far below pre-pandemic numbers.

The numbers line up with a July 20 report from the state’s Early Learning Division and Portland State University about the challenges of child care during the Covid pandemic. The report, which surveyed child care providers and operators in March 2021, which found about 12% of early learning programs were closed statewide, mostly because of pandemic-related challenges.

About one-quarter of those directors said they don’t intend to reopen. Lack of financial stability were the most commonly cited reason for closures.

The report found programs that received some type of government financial support during the pandemic were far more likely to still be open in 2021. Those supports included the federal paycheck protection program, which provided forgivable loans to employers to cover operating costs and pay employees, as well as state grants to child care providers.

About 92% of programs that got financial help were still open in the spring of 2021, versus just 82% of those that didn’t get help.

“It’s troubling to continue seeing a decline in the number of licensed child care providers as a result of the pandemic,” said Melanie Mesaros, spokeswoman for the Early Learning Division, in an email. “We know many providers are struggling, and we will continue to offer support.”

-Rachel Alexander