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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Little Brianna is a typical 4-year-old child who keeps her mom Leigha Horton very busy. The two spend a lot of time together now that Leigha, a licensed practical nurse (LPN), has had to switch careers so she could work from home. And it wasn’t by choice.

“I was offered a job at Novant Health in the Psychiatric Department, which is one of my specialties,” Horton said. “I was offered that job and I accepted it. But unfortunately. before my start date, I was unable to get childcare situated for my children.

And Horton’s family isn’t alone.

“There’s a crisis,” said Katura Jackson, executive director of Child Care Resource Center in Winston-Salem. “There’s a loss of spaces, there’s a loss of programs.”

According to Jackson, the childcare crisis in the Piedmont Triad and around the nation has been brewing for about 10 years and made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s exacerbated the crisis because now you have staff who don’t feel comfortable coming in because they are afraid that they might get COVID from the children,” Jackson said. “You can’t really take an infant, a toddler, a 3-year-old and say, ‘no, you stay over there, stay your six feet.’ They want hugs, they want kisses.”

Combine that with centers unable to pay childcare workers more, and it’s hard to attract and keep staff.

“Even the colleges will tell you the number of people enrolled in early childhood education has declined simply because they don’t see the long-term career in this field, and we really want the best and brightest to educate our children,” Jackson said.

Jackson estimates there were 420 licensed childcare options, both in-home and centers, in Forsyth County 20 years ago. Today, that number is down to 192.

“It’s really not feasible a lot of the time, for people to stay in business,” Jackson said. “It’s hard when inflation increases, the price of food increases, the cost of hiring staff increases and you’re still getting that same weekly rate. And a lot of parents, they really can’t afford that because the minimum wage has been stuck at pretty much the same rate.

According to Jackson, the solution likely lies with state funding — similar to what we see with K-12 education.

“Childcare programs need that as well, some type of system, some type of government subsidy,” Jackson said. “And I think that we’ll probably get there at some point maybe since the pandemic happened and people are realizing that it’s such a crisis.”