Published Date: 04/25/20
Families across the country have been significantly affected by daycare and preschool programs shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states have shut down childcare entirely, while others have allowed them to serve essential employees during the outbreak. Only a handful of states have permitted childcare providers to operate as usual, save for implementing a handful of additional safety measures.
The CDC recently issued new guidelines for childcare programs that remain open. These include social distancing strategies, which are extraordinarily difficult to implement in a group childcare setting. While the CDC has not mandated changes to group sizes, many states have limited classes to stable groups of no more than ten children. It’s yet to be seen if that directive will remain going into fall and beyond.
Daycare and preschool programs must be prepared to adapt to various scenarios and parents must be able to as well. This can be incredibly stressful for parents who have children enrolled in group childcare or who will be looking to enroll in the coming weeks or months.
Depending on your area, what you can expect may vary. Below we lay out different daycare and preschool scenarios that may occur and how you should approach them.
Childcare provider capacity is reduced
If you have an existing spot in daycare or preschool or have already secured a spot for future care, chances are you’ll be able to retain that spot, provided you follow contract agreements regarding tuition payments if the daycare or preschool must close due to COVID-19 or other force majeure. However, the possibility exists that your childcare provider will have to reduce capacity and one or more children will have their spot revoked. Many states have put measures in place to limit group childcare sizes and that may carry over for many months. If that’s the case, you may see large tuition increases when contracts are renewed as providers are looking to recoup losses suffered during COVID-19 and make up for a reduction in the number of families served.
Childcare provider must prioritize specific families
In may areas, childcare providers have been instructed to prioritize certain families, including essential workers, at-risk children, and families receiving state childcare subsidies. Check your local
The first thing you should do is ask if there’s any scenario your provider is aware of where your spot would be rescinded to open a spot for someone else. If the answer is yes, discuss what that means for tuition payments, holding fees, and refunds. Read your contract closely to determine what your obligations are. If your daycare or preschool tells you that there’s a chance your spot will be rescinded, immediately begin your search for backup options.
Social distancing in childcare
Some experts are predicting that the United States will require waves of social distancing and stay at home orders to continue fighting the virus until a vaccine is widely available. The CDC has issued social distancing guidelines to childcare providers who are currently open. These measures include keeping children in stable groups (no class mixing), keeping children of essential employees in a separate classroom, canceling events, limiting the number of children participating in an activity, and spacing out cribs or nap mats to provide at least 6’ between each child.
Additional safety measures in daycare & preschool
In addition to social distancing measures, the CDC has recommended that childcare providers meet children curbside so parents aren’t entering the facility. If possible, they say to implement staggered drop off and pick up times, which means that if you typically have flexibility in those, you may have limited windows for both for the foreseeable future.
Many childcare providers are doing temperature checks on every child before the enter the school and have updated their sick policies to exclude children who have a fever of 100.4 or higher for 72 hours. That threshold is lower than the 101.4 degrees many providers typically adhere to, and generally, children must be fever-free for only 24 hours before returning to care.
The CDC is also recommending that providers wear a button down top shirt and change it after comforting a crying child. Theoretically, this could lead to some providers giving less comfort than they typically would to avoid the inconvenience of constantly changing clothing.
Daycare and preschool providers are also encouraged to increase cleaning and sanitation frequency, use gloves during diapering, wearing hair in a ponytail or other updo, and taking other precautionary measures.
In many centers and home-based childcare, providers are wearing masks, though children are not being required to in most cases. It’s important to note that masks are not safe for children under two.
Positive test for COVID-19 in a childcare facility
If a child, teacher, administrator, parent (or other family member who resides with a child) tests positive for COVID-19, your provider may be required to close for 14 days. If additional people associated with the childcare test positive after an initial closing period, they may have to close again.
Online learning in preschool
Many childcare providers who are currently closed are offering online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. If they have to close again in the future, yours may decide to offer it. While some children enjoy it and participate, you may find that your child doesn’t like it. If that’s the case, there’s no need to force it. Your child will not fall behind academically if they don’t sit through online preschool lessons. Find other ways of incorporating various concepts into your day and read our tips to keep children engaged while they’re away from group childcare settings.
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, many daycare and preschool providers found that they were between a rock and a hard place. Their contracts did not permit them to charge tuition while closed but without tuition, they simply couldn’t cover basic expenses to stay in business. Nearly all childcare providers will be updating their contracts to protect themselves in the future. Expect contract language that requires you pay a holding fee, a portion of tuition, or even full tuition if they close again in the future.
Many childcare providers are requiring parents to sign liability waivers as they relate to COVID-19 and other illnesses. These waivers often absolve the provider of any liability as it pertains to staff, children, and family members contracting COVID-19 and any effects, including death, that may result from it. The waivers often include language that absolves them even if there is negligence on their part. If you're required to sign one, read it closely and ensure you're comfortable with it before sending your child.
Availability of childcare
Childcare providers are struggling greatly right now. The CARES Act made few provisions for them and while Sen. Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Smith (D-MN) have proposed a $50 billion child care bail out, there’s been little movement on the proposal as of now. This means that many daycare and preschool programs are in grave danger of shutting their doors permanently. You may find this is the case in your area leaving you with a shortage. In addition, the decreased capacity rules that may be in effect can contribute to a shortage as well.
Alternatively, you may find that significant job loss in your area means that fewer people are looking for care and spots are abundant. If this is the case, it may lead to future program closures and an eventual shortage.
New or renewed separation anxiety
Separating from parents is difficult for many children in the early stages of daycare or preschool. Your child may have started in the fall of last year and you had finally found your groove where drop offs were no longer dreaded only to be hit with your childcare provider shutting down in response to COVID-19. It's likely that your child will again experience separation anxiety or even have new anxiety where none existed before.
The best thing you can do is prepare your child in advance, even if you're unsure exactly what you're preparing him or her for. There will likely be at least some staffing changes, so that means your child's favorite teacher may be gone when you return. Some children will have disenrolled as well. You can tell your child that it will be so exciting to see old friends and meet new ones, that new teachers will love her or him as much as the old ones did, and be honest that some things may be different. Daily temperature checks may be scary for a child, so be reassuring that they're simply an extra precaution. As mentioned, speak with your daycare or preschool about what policies they intend on keeping so you can best prepare. And read our strategies for overcoming separation anxiety at drop off over at Boston Moms.
What you should do
The current recommendations from the CDC are just that - recommendations. They’re not requirements and these guidelines may or may not be in place in the coming months.
If you have an existing childcare provider it’s critical that you keep lines of communication open and understand what challenges they're facing and what policies they’re enacting to ensure you’re comfortable with them and confident that your provider will be able to accommodate your child. If you’re unsure in any way, start looking for alternative care.
If you don’t have a daycare or preschool lined up, start your search now. You may have to settle for virtual tours at the moment and you may have to put your name on multiple wait lists, but the alternative is not having care when you need it. Again, keep in close touch with your provider if you register for future care or add your name to a wait list, as so many uncertainties may have an impact on their ability to provide care or your comfort level with the program.
Being prepared in the face of an unpredictable situation can help ensure that you’re not scrambling to find child care once safer at home orders are lifted and life slowly returns to normal. While nobody can predict the future, knowing what to expect can help ease stress in a harrowing time.
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