Licensing of new childcare providers on hold
Frustration builds over delays caused by pandemic
NICOLE MCCORMACK, a hairstylist from Haverhilll, always dreamed of opening a home daycare. So with her youngest son entering kindergarten, she started applying for a license in March.
Five months later, she has not been able to take the training courses required by the Department of Early Education and Care, and her licensing process is stalled. The delays have left her and several families who are interested in her daycare, either neighbors or people who saw her website, in limbo.
“There’s people that are calling, and I don’t know what to tell them, when I’ll be able to accept them,” McCormack said.
As many existing childcare providers struggle with the decision about whether to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a crop of potential new providers have been prevented from opening by pandemic-related delays in the state’s licensing process.
“There are hundreds of women who want to be working and want to be opening these programs, and the state needs to do what they said they were going to do and create a path to licensure,” said Brian Swartz, CEO of NeighborSchools, a Boston-based startup that helps childcare providers navigate the licensing process.
Swartz said there is a pool of former preschool teachers who lost their jobs or want to work in a smaller home setting this year. His group has about 100 people who have contacted him over the last three or four months who want to become licensed as family childcare providers but have been blocked by the state delays.
According to Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for the Department of Early Education and Care, the licensing process for new childcares was paused during the pandemic while childcares were closed, because part of the licensing process includes an in-person visit. When the state let childcares reopen, the department prioritized approving the reopening of existing programs. Since June 22, it has approved 5,370 programs to reopen, with 1,166 applications in process.
Quinn could not say how many new licensees had been approved.
Swartz said the licensing process, in pre-pandemic times, could take six or eight months, though his group was often able to help people get through it in three. New providers must fill out an application, attend a provider meeting and a training class, do online training, take a CPR class, have a physical exam, get fingerprinted, pay a fee, and undergo a home inspection.
Swartz said he was told that the department was trying to streamline the licensing system and move more of it online. But it doesn’t seem to have worked.
“Now, instead of having a bad process, we have no process.” Swartz said. He said new providers “are still in a holding pattern where nobody is able to start or make progress towards getting a license right now.”
Ellen Dembro, of West Boylston, ran a family childcare center for 12 years, then spent eight years at other jobs, mostly in retail. She has since decided that she misses kids, and in February she began the EEC licensing process, hoping to restart her center this fall. She completed her training. State officials told her the process would take three to six months. “Then it just stopped,” Dembro said. “Everything’s on hold.”
Dembro is on unemployment benefits and working to complete her CPR training, but she is waiting for approval from EEC to go forward with the final steps, like fingerprinting. “I’m a patient person and I know there’s so much going on, but I’ve been very anxious,” Dembro said. “It’s just not knowing what’s happening.”Another provider, Krystina, who asked that her last name not be used because she worried it might affect her application, said she submitted her paperwork to EEC in February and was told it would take one to three months for them to process. She passed her background check, but EEC still has not given her a license.
“It’s really been disheartening,” Krystina said. “I’ve been ready to go since February but having this delay means I missed the beginning of the school year enrollment for September.” She left a teaching job to open her own center, but instead has had to apply for unemployment benefits.