Actually, most day cares were never really closed. Considered an essential business by NY’s Governor Cuomo, they were to remain open to serve essential worker child care needs. Unfortunately, some did find it more financially viable to temporarily close. A possible large influx of families looking for child care due to school closings was expected by those working in the field, but many providers found their enrollment numbers way down. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear. It could be that in many families, the other parent, or some other relative was temporarily laid off as part of a non-essential business, and therefore they were available to take care of the children. Another possibility is that financial constraints or uncertainty led families to make other arrangements to cut that cost out of their budget for the time being. Or perhaps it was just fear of the possible spread of the virus in child care environments. COI’s Child Care Council would like a better understanding of what families did for child care during the “New York Pause” and what they are anticipating for the future as businesses continue to reopen.
Tested, tried, and true, child care centers and home-based programs are doing everything they can to keep children in their care safe and healthy. Guidance has been given by the New York State Governor, Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), and Health Department. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also has guidelines specific to child care programs. A guidance document the Child Care Council adopted from another resource and referral agency is being made available to child care providers in Chautauqua County as well.
Regular sanitizing is a practice licensed and registered programs are already very familiar with, as it is a regulatory requirement. Handwashing with soap and water after certain activities, at a minimum, cleaning and disinfecting toys and commonly touched surfaces are routine practices for these programs. As a precaution, for as long as the spread of Covid-19 is a risk, all providers and staff are required to wear face masks while children are in care. Children over two years old may wear masks if the parent chooses. If the children in care are in a public setting outside of the day care, masks are required for children over two years, unless they are medically unable to wear one. Many, if not all, of the programs are checking children’s and staff’s temperatures throughout the day and watching for signs and symptoms. Daily health checks are, at all times, a regulatory requirement for licensed and registered child care programs in New York State. To help ensure that child care programs are able to accommodate the enhanced cleaning and personal protection requirements and best practices, grant money and supplies have been made available through the CARES Act specifically for child care, and foundations in the local community have also contributed generously.
A family scholarship was made available through funding from the CARES Act so that families who did not fall within the income guidelines for child care subsidy funding have another option to help with affordability. The income guidelines for the child care subsidy were also expanded to assist more families. So, that is why it was a bit puzzling that so many of the programs in Chautauqua County have been struggling to get and keep enrollments. It isn’t just our county, however. Similar numbers of dropped enrollments and program closings have occurred throughout the state.
The expectation is that as other businesses get back up to full capacity, child care needs will increase again. Are we wrong about that? Are families planning a different future for their work and home life? The Child Care Council would like to receive feedback about this from families.
Child care is in the discussion more and more among policy makers and candidates for office nationally. The Council and its partner organizations think about it all the time. The problem is we can really only make educated guesses about families’ needs. The only voices that are not being heard are the voices of those the topic most deeply touches. A comment by a policy maker was recently expressed to someone who has worked diligently to bring resources and quality to child care and child care availability. The policy maker said that they don’t believe there really are issues with child care because they hadn’t heard anything from parents about it. The author heard a similar comment not that long ago from a business person. Now perhaps they are right; perhaps families do not struggle with child care. We suspect, based on what we hear from families we do interact with, that this is not the case. They do struggle; to find it, afford it, and maintain it. At times, we have had parents tell us that they may have to give up a job opportunity or promotion because they cannot find child care that will work for them. Taking a job that pays less or is less desirable is another sacrifice we have heard of parents making because of lack of child care choices or affordability. That really shouldn’t be acceptable. But as long as they don’t hear about it, business leaders and policy makers won’t feel the need to put their attention to it.
Perhaps you feel that child care is not really the concern of business and government. It is a personal concern. Businesses have their requirements of employees based on what they need; certain hours of work, days of work, etc. Families with children have their own requirements based on what the children need. Since many in the workforce are also parents, bringing the needs of the two together is what we are asking of policy makers and the community as a whole. They will continue to put their attention toward the voices they are hearing that are speaking up about their concerns. “But I am only one voice,” you may say. One call you make, one email you send added to another and another about the same topic add up to an attention getter! Action isn’t born out of thin air. It is the result of being unable to ignore something any more, doing something to achieve something.
We hope that all of you with children in child care are able to return to the providers you were with before the pandemic hit. As mentioned earlier, the Child Care Council is very interested in hearing from families about their plans to balance work and family as we slowly get back to normality as we knew it. Anyone may contact the Registrar, Patti Dudenhoeffer, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (716) 661-9430 and ask for the Child Care Council to speak to any of the staff. The Child Care Council is available to provide you with free child care referrals, as well as services for new and existing child care programs. Please call 1-800-424-4532 if you are in need of child care, and the Resource and Referral Specialist will be happy to assist you!