TIME magazine’s Abby Vesoulis has called coronavirus’ effect on childcare a “Catch-22 for working families.” With most childcare centers, schools, and summer camps still closed, how can parents go back to work? If they can’t go back to work now, how will they afford alternate forms of childcare so they eventually can?”
There have been over 47,000 COVID-19 cases in the Metro Atlanta area to date and just east of the city, smaller counties are still seeing cases in the hundreds. Yet, the State of Georgia began loosening shelter-in-place orders in early May and childcare providers in the Newton County area have started opening their doors with more health and safety precautions than ever.
The CDC recommends that childcare providers implement social distancing strategies such as keeping children within the same groups each day and postponing field trips and other special events, as well as routinely cleaning high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, handles, tables, toys, and games. And, just like almost every small business and individual, finding those CDC recommended cleaning products and masks, for children as well as staff, is a significant challenge. Our local providers are expected to have sufficient supplies on-hand in order to reopen and many of them are still searching for enough to meet the requirements.
Dependency on these materials, while essential, is taxing considering childcare workers themselves are in limbo with their employment. One owner has been rotating staff in order to ensure that everyone stays employed.
Many local childcare centers were forced to shut down when the pandemic hit nation-wide in March, but some have stayed open in order to provide childcare for essential workers. One provider that stayed open incorporated the CDC’s recommendations into their daily routine months ago. Now, they are used to the procedures, but have continued to have an issue with the lack of communication between parents since they no longer see them face-to-face.
This seems to be a common thread throughout many childcare providers, even for ones that are just now beginning to reopen. Another local provider closed its doors on March 13th, but opened back up May 27th. Its director said she had previously sent out learning packets for parents to use to continue their children’s education during the quarantine, but has since stopped because of the higher amount of contact and possibility of the virus living on the surface of the paper.
Although, it’s not just younger kids who will require care whether or not school starts back in-person. One Newton-based provider specifically works with school-aged children in her after-school program, which due to the pandemic has not been able to continue it’s regular summer field trips. However, because her children are older, she has been able to remain in touch with them on account of their access to their own technology. Another provider works with a number of families who are low income . She, therefore, has been communicating through paper packets rather than technology. The same parents will most likely have to continue to work in August regardless of whether or not their children are able to return to traditional school. This could leave the job of educating young children in the hands of childcare providers. Nevertheless, if children are unable to attend school in-person for an extended period of time, inevitably some will fall behind. A higher than average amount of younger children who are set to learn the basics of reading and writing could have their education stunted because of the crisis which, at this rate, could overall significantly hinder the development of a generation.
What the new normal of our world post-COVID-19 will look like is still not completely clear to us. As for our childcare industry, the effects will be long-lasting and possibly detrimental. “Our kids are having to start over and relearn as if it is their first day of daycare,” stated a provider, whose program is one of the lucky ones. As many as 5 million US children’s childcare centers were shut down during the pandemic and many locally-owned businesses may not reopen. Many states have not issued plans for reopening and as many centers close their doors permanently, the demand for care continues to increase. With the limited number of available seats in childcare programs, working parents may have more to worry about come August.
In Georgia, childcare rates are expected to increase along with enrollment.
Nationally, Congress’ proposed $7 billion relief package to bail out childcare centers, will not be enough to sustain the programs for long. The industry is already one that is often overlooked and one that there is not much money in. Therefore, many people will have to resort to some form of free childcare or staying home to take care of their children themselves, because for them, there is no other option.
We have been working to support childcare providers in Newton County during this time. If you would like more information, you can check out our website at nwtnfamilyconnection.org or on Facebook at Newton Family Connection. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.