Childcare providers and working parents have dealt with unprecedented conflicts the past couple of weeks with COVID-19 at the root of their challenges.
Ironically, the pandemic has left some childcare providers serving fewer families while some families need childcare more than ever.
“This time is frightening,” said Renee Wrolson, a Faribault childcare provider. She’s lost some families because parents aren’t able to work at this time, but she’s also accepted the children of nurses, prison staff and healthcare staff for as long as these families need her.
“We’re opening our homes and selves up to potential contamination, but if I can help these families who are on the front lines continue to work, and give their children a sense of normalcy, and continued love and fun, it is all worth it,” said Wrolson.
Like Wrolson, Nichole Miller, another Faribault childcare provider, says some of her families no longer need child care with parents out of work. In particular, she mentioned children whose parents work in schools, which are now closed.
“It’s hard on finances, but at the same time it’s scary to let people potentially bring it right through your front door,” said Miller. “It’s a tough spot to be in especially with a person in the home being compromised.”
At Faribault Child Care Center, Owner Dahir Sadik has reached a crisis point, having been forced to lay off more than half of his staff as the number of children they take care of has plummeted from around 70 to approximately 20 as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
A significant number of parents are teachers now working from home.
“We have lost a lot of business on that,” he said.
Sadik is one of many business owners across the region who are grappling with an uncertain economic and social future as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase across the country and governments ponder how to balance the needs for public health and a healthy economy.
The child care center has offered laid off employees help on filing for unemployment benefits.
“We are doing everything we can,” Sadik said.
A child care grant program instituted Thursday by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation should help Sadik and other local child care centers. The grants include a total of $300,000 for Greater Minnesota child care providers immediately. SMIF is expected to award grants of up to $1,000 to eligible licensed family child care programs and a maximum of $3,000 for licensed center-based programs. To be eligible, providers must be caring for children ages birth to 5 years of parents or guardians who are working in government-identified critical sectors exempt from Gov. Tim Walz’s two-week Stay-At-Home order beginning this weekend.
Sadik said the grants will help with payroll, taxes, food, tuition and the morale of the facility’s management team.
“It will just kind of change the whole game,” he said. “It will help us be in business.”
Interested childcare providers within the region can complete a short application provided on SMIF’s website, https://smifoundation.org/grants/for-grant-seekers/emergency-child-care-grant/. The organization hopes to provide funding within two weeks of applications being submitted.
“It has been heartbreaking to hear from our child care providers across southern Minnesota as they deal with new challenges as a result of this unprecedented crisis,” said Rae Jean Hansen, vice president of early childhood at SMIF. “We are honored to be able to play a part in supporting child care businesses as they fill a critical need in our communities by caring for children of emergency and essential personnel.”
Childcare at school
For some working parents, their children’s schools have met their childcare needs.
Under the governor’s executive order to provide free school-age childcare for children of emergency workers, the Faribault school district began offering childcare to workers considered by the state to be Tier One (essential and emergency services) from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting March 17 at Roosevelt Elementary School.
Faribault Community Education Director Anne Marie Leland hopes to send out surveys to Tier Two workers by the end of this week. She’s been working with the Chamber of Commerce to acquire emails of workers in that category, per the governor’s executive order. These include educators, substance disorder treatment workers, child care workers, and many more.
Leland reported two children of emergency workers attended the district’s child care on the first day, March 17; turnout steadily increased to 12 by Tuesday.
Starting next week, when students begin using distance learning, the childcare schedule will take a new form. From 6:30 to 8 a.m., students will take part in an activity club. Between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., three students per staff member will implement distance learning and develop a normal learning routine in a smaller, safe and hygienic setting. After 3 p.m., children at Roosevelt will participate in Community School club activities.
Taking precautions, Leland said providers constantly wash supplies with bleach solution and follow intense hygienic practices. If enrollment reaches larger numbers, she said the program may expand to a different building to keep everyone safe and at a distance.
Open and closed
Two daycare centers operate out of the St. Peter Community Center, leasing space and operating as private businesses. One of them, SP3C (St. Peter Community Child Care Center), shut down with no definite reopening date. Executive Director Sadi Laidlaw said with four staff members out sick March 20, the board decided to close the center as a preventative measure. Attendance had dropped before the SP3C closure, she said, with seven out of 25 or 30 school-aged children at the center last week, and 30 out of 60 infant-to-preschool children in attendance.
“This is a devastating blow not only financially, but emotionally too,” said Laidlaw in an email. “We have 27 dedicated employees that are without work, over 85 families that are without care. It’s an extremely difficult time for all childcare providers, especially nonprofits, small family-owned centers and family based. I’ve been in early childhood education for 18 years, and I have never experienced anything like this. I pray this is something all providers are able to bounce back from.”
The other daycare center in the St. Peter Community Center, Kids’ Corner Child Care Center, remains open.
“Our board can make that decision [to close] if something arises, such as illness, but as of right now we’ve been healthy so we continue to take it day by day,” said Kids’ Corner Director Cassie Frey.
While enrollment is down, Frey said families are still charged even if their children don’t attend. Staff remains consistent, she said, and the children in attendance have parents who are still working. Many teachers and college professors, she said, choose to keep their children at home for the time being.
Since COVID-19 became a concern in Minnesota, Frey said she’s met with staff weekly rather than monthly and has given families until Friday to decide their long-term plans for childcare. The daycare remains fully staffed.
With the library and the rest of the St. Peter Community Center closed, Frey said some of the amenities in the building are only open to Kids’ Corner for now. She and staff have developed a system of sanitizing things twice a day, she said, and cleaning areas after using them.
Although Kids’ Corner is not accepting new families right now, she said families with children 6 weeks to 12 years may call in case the board decides to open enrollment to additional families soon.
“It’s something that we’re looking into,” Clack said of reopening enrollment.
Families have also needed to make adjustments, whether it’s because children are out of school while parents continue working or because childcare centers are closing.
Working Northfield parent Annie Clack said she took her 4-year-old son out of daycare once COVID-19 became a serious issue in Minnesota. He now stays with his grandma Monday through Friday. Clack’s 2-year-old son continues going to an in-home daycare in Faribault.
“Our home daycare provider has set up amazing procedures for when children arrive and what her family does behind the scenes to make sure that her home is safe and clean for all of her kiddos,” said Clack in an email.
If Clack’s 2-year-old’s daycare closes, Clack will have a real challenge. She works at a local credit union, and her fiancé works at a local bank.
“We are essential employees that can’t easily step away from our jobs as the community needs us,” said Clack. “In the event daycares close down, we will have to figure out who will take our 2-year-old as our jobs will continue on.”
Rachell Hatfield received a notice of her child’s daycare center closing earlier this week, and that put her in a difficult position.
“My husband and I both work, and now I have to figure out what to do with my 2-year-old last minute so I can make my shifts at the hospital,” said Hatfield. “My husband may have to quit working because it’s important I make my shifts at the hospital.”
For some parents now working from home, taking their child out of daycare is an option. With schools closed, Michelle Martindale, a teacher in Faribault Public Schools, made that decision.
“Even though we completely trust our provider to take all the possible measures, there is always that risk,” said Martindale. “We decided to keep our children at home for the time being, but we continue to pay our provider because we are still getting a paycheck, and it is the right thing to do. It has been a different type of adjustment with so many uncertainties, parents trying to work from home or split schedules, kids away from friends and their own routines. This is a whole new world to navigate.”