CINCINNATI – As school officials chalk up plans for students to learn off-site, in schools or both this fall, child care providers across the country are working to create more safe spaces and care scenarios for kids.
And they’re doing it under pressure.
School plans are iffy, so solutions must be fluid. Care centers are already working with their own coronavirus pandemic guidelines for children, often with crippling costs.
“We are in the midst of a tornado, and we’re trying to figure out how to educate in the middle of it. The tornado is COVID-19. It is not letting up,” said Jorge Perez, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.
“The systems are in flux. We are going to have to be speedy. We are going to need additional funding.”
That need was expressed nationwide among child care providers who took part in a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) released in July. 40% of U.S. child care centers in the U.S. said they are certain that, without additional public assistance, they will be forced to close permanently.
The survey also found that, of child care providers that are open, 86% are serving fewer children than they were before the pandemic. Average enrollment is down by 67%.
At the same time, the providers face substantial and unprecedented costs of personal protection equipment (81%), cleaning supplies (92%) and staff (72%).
Additional costs fall on parents, too – and is a particularly heavy weight to bear among families with less financial resources, who can’t afford additional child care.
Yet more kids – especially school-age children – will need adult supervision while they learn remotely this fall as their parents work. Some will need all-day supervision. Others will need after-school care. School clubs might be out as an option, and gathering at a neighbor’s home could be risky now, too.
Many public school systems hope to start the school year with a “blended” or “hybrid” schedule – a mix of online and face-to-face instruction – which either alternates students’ days in buildings, or has students attend “in-person” classes for a just couple of days each week.
In other school districts, parents may opt to have their children do all distance learning instead of ever entering a school building this year.
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The intricate child care needs come after child care centers cut enrollment to meet social distancing requirements.
Some relief is coming from that. For example, on Tuesday, Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine said that, beginning Aug. 9, child care providers in Ohio can return to their normal class sizes and staffing ratios.
The child care providers, DeWine said, will have a choice. They can maintain their lower capacity and receive a government subsidy, or they can go back to normal and not receive one.
Child care options
Here are a few more options that may be in play when school starts:
Stay after school: Some kids will be kept in their schools, limiting transportation, and may be under the eyes of paraprofessionals brought to their classroom.
Daylong supervision: Some kids who are learning remotely will get supervision at child care centers, with an academic morning (as they work online) and an enrichment-oriented afternoon.
Nontraditional care centers: Some libraries, churches and museums likely will offer space for child care.
Outside organizations: Some kids, for example, may spend time with the Boys and Girls Club.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced free child care for students in preschool through eighth grade, planning to serve 100,000 of the city’s 1 million students. About 50,000 will participate in child care each day, since New York is scheduled to send children to in-person classes two or three days a week.
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In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families will launch community “learning hubs” to serve 5,000 to 6,000 high-need students on Sept. 14 – at more than 40 sites across the city, pending approval from local and state health officials.
“It will take a village to address the wide range of learning needs for our city’s children and youth during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Breed said in a statement.
Full-day programming at the hubs will include education support and enrichment services, meals and snacks and physical activity.
Costs spiral for child care centers
The costs of pandemic care already have piled up on child care centers. They worry about their futures even as they make plans for this fall.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s survey of child care providers, among other findings, shows:
More than 70% of child care centers nationwide are experiencing additional costs for staff (72%), cleaning supplies (92%), and personal protective equipment (81%)
On average, large child care centers are spending an additional $3,136 a month on increased expenses
73% of programs have or will engage in layoffs, furloughs, and/or pay cuts. For minority-owned businesses, the situation is worse; only 12% have not had to take these measures
Just 18% of child care programs expect to survive longer than a year
More than 325,000 child care workers have lost their jobs since February, according to the Department of Labor
Parents: Look for child care now
Child advocates say that now is the time for parents to start figuring out a child care strategy – even if their kids’ school district hasn’t finalized back-to-school plans.
“Parents need to be more active than they have been,” Perez said.
Because the vast majority of child care in the U.S. isn’t free finding affordable options is challenging for many families who encounter financial barriers.
In Louisiana, for example, parents may have more difficulty affording child care, as some face job loss at the same time as child care costs could go from $12,000 a year to $16,000 a year, according to averages included in a cost modeling report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
According to a Care.com COVID-19 Child Care Survey, more than half (52%) of parents anticipate that the cost of child care will be higher than before the pandemic, and 47% are more concerned about the cost of child care now than they were before.
Providers suggest reaching out to previous caregivers or forming a group with other parents on social media to share ideas for school-year child care.
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Employers encouraged to work with parents
The care providers recommend, too, that parents approach their employers about flexibility in scheduling in case they need to stay home to care for school-age or younger children.
It’s a familiar request, which employers faced in March when state governors shut down schools to try to dampen COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found, through a survey in May, that 30% of its members said child care was a barrier to having employees return to work.
“What schools are planning to do has a tremendous impact on employees and employers,” chamber President Brent Cooper said. “Our advice to the employers has been to ask them to be as flexible as possible and to continue to work with their employees who are parents.”
There’s also the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights, which expanded leave for families through December 2020.
The act allows up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular pay rate those whose care provider or school is closed because of COVID-19. The rule applies to workers who’ve been employed at least 30 calendar days. Details are on the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s website.
Child care leaders in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area said that despite all of the complications of getting kids’ care covered this fall, they remain confident they’ll do it – with community-wide help.
“The reality is, we have dealt with difficult times in Cincinnati before, and we’ll figure it out,” Perez said. “But we can’t underestimate the challenge we have in front of us.”
Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY; Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Back to school: Virtual school brings child care challenges nationwide