Leslie Spina never thought it would come to this. She scheduled an online meeting for the majority of her staff at Kinder Academy child-care centers in Northeast Philly. She scanned the faces of 100 employees, practically all of them women, on a computer screen. Some she’d known since 1994, when she founded the business. She tried, but couldn’t hold back tears. Her voice quivered as she told them she had to lay them off Friday, March 20.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said later. “The absolute worst. I am so worried for them and how they will fare in this situation. How will people recover from this? And that is considering the situation before any of them are sick or before we have lost anyone.”
Child-care facilities have been closed statewide since March 16. The majority of Kinder’s 500 client families at five locations are low-income and qualify for city, state, or federal funding. The state’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning has said it would continue to fund the subsidized program Child Care Works through April 30. But what happens after that date, including to other city, state and federal subsidies? And the duration of the shutdown remains unclear.
Spina said she decided to do layoffs sooner rather than later, thinking that her employees would get a jump start on applying for unemployment.
And that's just what they did.
“It felt bizarre,” said Mandy Crozier, who was Kinder’s curriculum coordinator, describing the application process. “It was disturbing to do it. I’ve never been on unemployment. It’s scary. I still don’t feel like it’s set in yet. It doesn’t feel real.”
Crozier, now 40, kind of grew up at Kinder. She was 20 years old, a single mom raising daughter Jacey when she started there. “I needed work, and I didn’t want to leave my child,” she said. So she got a job at Kinder and enrolled Jacey, then 18 months old. “It was the easiest solution at the time. I thought I’d do this while I try to figure life out.”
She now has a master’s degree, and Jacey, now 21, also worked at Kinder until the layoff. Crozier is now married and is relieved her husband hasn’t lost his job in human resources. She said she understands why Spina chose to lay employees off rather than wait and see. “I respect her decision. I want the business to still be there. To see her in that state when she told us was terrifying. She was crying. Leslie doesn’t cry. She can withstand anything.”
Many Kinder workers are terrified that they won’t be able to financially stay afloat.
“It’s scary. Just really scary,” said Yashira Morant, a mother of two children, ages 3 and 6. She and her fiance already lived paycheck to paycheck before the layoff. She earned $13 an hour and her fiance does pest control work, and so far is still employed.
"One paycheck will make it really hard to pay the rent, the car payment, and all the other bills," she said. "My biggest fear is that I can't go back to work soon. If I have no income coming in, what happens to us?"
Heather Campbell, 32, and her husband, William, both worked for Kinder and have two sons, 5 and 11. She was a teacher and he was a part-time janitor. William has another job, cleaning trains for SEPTA.
“For right now, he’s working. I’m just afraid when this is all over that we won’t have a job to come back to,” she said. “I’m hoping that we can reopen for ourselves and our families. Resume where we left off.”
Parents who relied on Kinder are struggling, too. Porsha Fields had three of her four children there while she worked as a food service assistant for the Philadelphia School District. “The kids miss their friends,” she said. “And the teachers there are like my second family.”
Campbell FaceTimed Fields’ children, reading books, playing games, staying in touch. Many Kinder teachers continue to do the same for their children.
"In the face of tragedy, they continue to do Eve's work," Spina said.
Among the employees Spina laid off was her own mom, who ran the front desk, and nephew, who was a classroom assistant. Her mom survived SARS 17 years ago. Now she, along with her disabled husband, live with Spina in Bucks County.
“The expectation is, after this crisis passes, we’ll come back and take care of the children. It’s underpaid and undervalued work. It’s time for our society to take a different look at this,” she said. "In order for us as a country to normalize, child care, quality care, has to be in place.