Child Care: 1 More Way Some Federal Workers Struggle During Shutdown

Jan 14, 2019
Originally published on January 14, 2019 6:19 am

At 10 o'clock in the morning, Austin Lanham should be working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center routing satellite communication.

But with the partial federal government shutdown, he's not working, deadlines are slipping, he's not getting paid and the preschool his two sons go to is shut down because it's on NASA's property. "Now I'm just a full-time stay at home dad," he says.

That's the case with many federal child care centers in the Washington D.C. region and with some around the country.

While he's been home with his four-year-old twin boys, he and his wife have been footing the child care bill, which adds up to about $2,000 a month; though Lanham says he was recently told that he'd only be charged for the services missed during the government shutdown up until now, not going forward. To him and his wife, the effect is more than dollars and cents. They worry that their boys are missing out on essential time in preschool.

And the story isn't any brighter for the child care centers themselves. As they're forced to close their doors, they still need to pay their employees (if they want them to stick around), the rent and all the other costs incurred running a business.

When Shanelle Patterson, the director of the child care center at the National Archives and Records Administration, was told to close down, she joined forces with the director of another center, not on government property, about seven miles away in a suburb of Washington D.C.

The two directors wanted to consolidate and stay in compliance with state regulations. So, they had to adjust, making sure there were enough teachers and staff for all of the students before moving everyone over.

They also had to borrow and buy extra cots for naps — the cots at the National Archives Administration are the property of the federal government.

Now there are more than a hundred families among the two centers and the director at the receiving location, Tara Phillips, says their children need to stay close to their regular routines — about 25 percent of the students have special needs. "So you have to be very careful with the environment, the furniture, the lighting, the people, the noise level," Phillips says.

There has been more food to cook in the kitchens and more dietary restrictions to keep track of. They've had to start using a public park down the street because the center's playground was too small for all the extra kids.

For the most part, Phillips says, they're collaborating and cooperating, which is what preschool is all about.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In this country, a partial government shutdown goes on. And it's affecting hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors across the U.S. It's also affecting some of their kids. That's because many child care centers inside federal buildings have closed. From member station WYPR in Baltimore, here's Mary Rose Madden.

MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: It's 10 o'clock in the morning, and Austin Lanham should be working at the Goddard Space Flight Center - part of NASA.

AUSTIN LANHAM: I work on the computers that make the satellite work - you know, routing communication through the satellite to where it needs to go, you know, that sort of thing.

MADDEN: But with the government shutdown, he's not working. Deadlines are slipping. He's not getting paid, and the preschool his two sons go to is shut down because it's on federal property.

LANHAM: Now I'm just a full-time, stay-at-home dad.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Kylo Ren is on this book, too.

MADDEN: But while he's home with his twin 4-year-old boys not receiving a paycheck, he still had to pay the child care bill. Lanham says he loves spending time with the boys. They set up their favorite "Star Wars" figures and watch cartoons. But he and his wife know they're missing out on essential time in pre-K.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: These were my daddy's "Star Wars" toys when he was a kid.

MADDEN: As federal child care centers are forced to close their doors, they still need to pay their employees, pay their rent and all the other costs incurred in running a business.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: You want to pick a song you want to sing?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: "Wheels On The Bus."

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: "The Wheels On The Bus." Yes.

MADDEN: Meanwhile, other federal child care centers are getting creative trying to accommodate families. Take the one inside the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Md. When the director there, Shanelle Patterson, was forced to shut her doors, she joined forces with the director of another center about seven miles away in Silver Spring, Md.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) The windows on the bus go open and shut.

MADDEN: Now Patterson's showing me around her new space.

SHANELLE PATTERSON: This is the 2-year-old classroom. So we have - two of the Silver Spring teachers are in here right now. And this lady over here is actually from our College Park center.

MADDEN: The two directors wanted to stay in compliance with state regulations and make adjustments so their centers could consolidate. Now there are more than a hundred families in one facility. And the director here, Tara Phillips, says their children need to stay close to their regular routines.

TARA PHILLIPS: We have - about 25 percent of our students are special needs. So you have to be very careful with the environment, the furniture, the lighting, the people, the noise level.

MADDEN: Phillips says they also had to borrow and buy extra cots for naps. The cots at the National Archives Administration Center were property of the federal government. There was more food to cook in the kitchen, and there were more dietary restrictions to keep track of. They had to start using a public park down the street. The center's playground was too small for all the extra kids. For the most part, Phillips says, they're collaborating and cooperating, which is kind of what preschool is all about. For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden.

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