The Dilemma of Childcare in the Time of COVID-19
I find myself looking at the COVID-19 pandemic from what feels like an unusual perspective.
For many years, early in my career, I was a childcare Teacher and Director responsible for making the very tough decisions facing every childcare program -large and small - in this complicated crisis. I'm not sure I ever faced anything quite as difficult as this. In another, more recent, chapter, I worked in public service with responsibility over policy and guidance for childcare programs and providers in times like these. Hurricane Irene may have been the most challenging of those times. I think the current dilemma has that beat in terms of sheer opposing priorities.
On the one hand, caring for groups of young children with the level of intimacy and constant interaction that each and every child in the group needs to thrive makes a sensible precaution like social distancing nearly impossible within the program. Nurturing early education is definitely not a job that can be done without contact with children and families. No teleworking in childcare. In the abundance of caution that is informing many decisions these days, childcare programs should simply contribute to the common good and close.
On the other hand, child care programs are an essential service for working families - parents and caregivers who cannot telework or suspend work because of the critical nature of their jobs, or their family financial stability, or both, need their childcare programs to stay open, model precaution over panic, and support them and their children through these scary, stressful times. Many young children depend on childcare for adequate nutrition - how will already stressed families living paycheck to paycheck manage to make up for that and keep their families safe and fed?
Then there is the hard reality and usual dilemma that childcare programs in this country are small businesses or lean non-profits, operating week to week in terms of revenue, with few cash reserves to help them survive a period of closure and uncertainty. And lets put a face on the early educators in this workforce. They are underpaid in general and most need every penny they earn each week to keep themselves and their families on an even keel. They have lives and health vulnerabilities and children of their own who may not be in school as schools make the hard decisions to close. They care intensely and personally for the children and families they serve and worry about what will happen to them if their program closes. If ever there is a workforce and an industry that the US should hold up, support, and believe in - it is childcare. Our country absolutely needs a functioning childcare ecosystem to get through this crisis and rebuild,
If I were still in public service I would be figuring out ways to support the industry - considering regulatory waivers for reconfigured programs struggling with staff absences and decreasing attendance, sustaining subsidies to make sure childcare providers have sustained revenue, and looking for emergency resources regardless of whether they choose to remain open or closed as this crisis continues.
If I were still a childcare provider with responsibility for a program, this is the letter I would write to families today: