While there had been some high-level media and academic reports about child care center closures in California, this article was the first look at actual county-level child care provider closures during the early months of the pandemic. It revealed an astonishing scale of closures in a state already deemed a “child care desert.”
Specifically, the data showed that more than 9,000 child care providers had closed between mid-March and July 31, 2020, and that roughly 1200 of these closures were permanent. It also found that the vast majority of closures were concentrated among small, home-based providers. A county-by-county analysis found that the loss of child-care spots was not spread evenly across California, and that the hardest-hit communities on a child population basis were in rural counties in the northern part of the state.
The Fuller Project was interested in data-driven pieces about the impact of COVID-19 on women, with a particular interest in how the pandemic was affecting the child care sector. Reporter Rikha Sharma Rani, a parent herself, was experiencing the impact of school and childcare closures from the pandemic first hand. That personal experience is what brought her to this story. She contacted the Department of Social Services and asked for detailed data about child care closures at the county level, which they provided. She was then able to build on that data and provide additional analysis to paint a clearer picture of the impact, such as the number of closures per population of children under five. The result was a data set that was one of the most extensive looks at child care closures since the start of the pandemic.
The article was an Apple News top story and was read by over 500,000 people. It was also syndicated by Yahoo! News, included in Politico’s California Playbook and shared by the Economic Security Project. The story contributed significantly to awareness about the growing child care crisis in California due to COVID-19. In September, the California senate passed SB 820, which expanded financial support to child care providers.
However, the real impact of the story was the focus on child care providers themselves. Child care providers are overwhelmingly women and women of color, and many of them are low income. But coverage of the issue overwhelmingly focused on the impact of child care closures on the economy or on families that relied on child care services and could afford to pay for them.. There was little coverage of the women providing the care, who were losing their livelihoods because of the pandemic. Sharma Rani centered them in this piece to underscore that child care closures matter not just because of the impact on the economy, but because the women who provide care matter too.