SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (CBS46) – Daycare dilemma. As people begin to turn off their zoom cameras and make their way back to the office, more Georgia parents are in need of quality and affordable child care.

But as CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky has learned, low pay and long hours is making it difficult for child care providers to find staff.

And those staffing shortages can impact families by leaving children stuck on long wait lists.

Two years after she opened Lifeline Christian World Academy in Stone Mountain, Roshonda Smith says life was good.

She had steady enrollment, and a solid teaching staff so she decided to buy a second location. It was February 2020 - a big year, but not in the way she hoped.

Lifeline Christian World Academy in Stone Mountain

Lifeline Christian World Academy in Stone Mountain

“It all depends on COVID-19, everything depends on COVID” said Smith, who already had to close her doors once, when a worker tested positive.

Now - like employers in most service industries - she says her biggest challenge is finding staff, who she knows can make more money working at big box stores.

“Amazon is building just around the corner. They’re offering $15 to $20 an hour. And little old me, I’m offering $12 an hour,” Smith said.

So she offers her workers incentives and gives out bonuses.

Because raising pay would likely mean raising tuition and that’s something she doesn’t want to do to parents.

She’s also gotten some financial help from the state.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning dished out $165 million dollars to licensed child care providers in Georgia.

$165 million

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning dished out $165 million dollars to licensed child care providers in Georgia.

“They can spend those dollars on staffing, benefits, salaries, maintenance, there’s good flexibility in those funds,” said Amy Jacobs, commissioner of Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

A July 2020 national survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found 18-percent of child care centers around the country were forced to closed their doors during the pandemic.

Another NAEYC survey from September 2021 found one in every three respondents said they were considering leaving their child care program or closing their family child care home within the next year, with another 14% saying “maybe” they would leave or close.

In Georgia, the number of licensed child care centers actually increased 0.7% during the pandemic, from 3,075 to 3,097. Meanwhile, the number of licensed family child care homes decreased 7.4% from 1,373 to 1,272. That’s according to Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

“I want it to be a family center where they feel loved here,” said Breona Udofia, the owner of Caterpillar International Academy in Sandy Springs.

Breona Udofia is part of those statistics. She just opened Caterpillar International Academy in September, 2021.

Caterpillar International Academy in Sandy Springs

Caterpillar International Academy in Sandy Springs

She agrees that recruiting staff is a challenge.

"I’ve done Instagram, Indeed, I’ve done everything to try and hire people to come out and work full-time. It's a problem," Udofia said.

She’s also having trouble getting kids in the door.

“A lot of parents are doing part-time, they’re not doing full-time enrollment,” Udofia said. "I think a lot of parents are still working from home."

So far, she has not turned a profit but she’s hopeful that things will turn around.

“I’m gonna be okay. I know it’s gonna get better,” Udofia said.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning said more financial support is on the way. They will reopen another round of STABLE (Short-Term Assistance Benefit for Licensed Entities) funding in February 2022, for those that didn’t apply.

Copyright 2021 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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