As a long-time advocate and go-to person in the child care space, it is no surprise that Kathy Ligon of Hinge Brokers was one of the first industry experts to pull together a webinar for child care centers on the coronavirus crisis. I attended “Essential Elements to Keeping Your School Healthy” with Kathy and her guest, Jason Russell of Secure Education Consultants, and have provided insights and information from the webinar as part of this blog post.
While none of us wants to create unnecessary angst for parents or staff, many child care center owners and operators want to keep their centers and the communities they serve healthy and safe. The webinar provided practical tips on best practices for what is right now an uncertain time.
Jason began the webinar with a few facts which included:
- Demographics of child care centers and staff are not within the high risk group of fatalities
- There has not been a death in a child under 10 years of age
- Overall mortality rate is 3.4%, and of these deaths – 80% are people over the age of 60, with many having underlying health issues, particularly cardiovascular or respiratory problems
Jason did not share this information to downplay the current situation, but rather to quell some of the fears that are out there. He then moved on to list out steps child care centers can take.
First, he noted that it is most important to prioritize internal communication – to your staff and educators. Once you have clearly communicated to those in your center, you also need to communicate to the families and children in your care. “Realize that parents are getting information from a bunch of places – from the place they rented a car a few months ago to a hotel they once stayed in, etc. It is important that you communicate early and often,” he said.
In terms of communication, Jason mentioned that you need to be specific in your communication. “Take your cue from the CDC and leverage their resources. They have posters and templates for information you can disseminate.” He also noted that you need to be specific in your plan and what you are doing. For example, “we are doing a deep clean three times a day, we have implemented hand washing after each activity, we are making sure everyone sings the handwashing song and we are sanitizing with this type of cleaner.”
In your communication, he also stated that you need to remind parents on best practices to stay well such as:
- Sneezing into one’s arm or a tissue
- Avoiding face touching
- Washing hands often (and for at least 20 seconds at a time)
- Staying away from other people if one feels like they are coming down with something
He also recommended a few other common-sense practices that you may want to either include in your communication or think through how you would implement:
- Be aggressive on sick policy, for both the children in your care and staff. If you have a 24-hour temperature free policy, now is the time to have zero tolerance.
- Limit or eliminate big group gatherings. And, keep anyone who does not need to be in the school out of the school.
- As part of this, you may want to think about whether or not you still allow tours or if you allow new children to enroll.
- Have a staff member stand at the entrance during check-in and check-out with had sanitizer.
- Make sure you are able to take kids’ temperatures as needed (preferably at the entrance of the school) and isolate any sick children immediately
- Remind parents what you are doing daily to keep down the risk of infection (and continue to do it diligently)
Additional precautions you could take include:
- Swiping foreheads of children before they enter school
- Not allowing parents past the lobby or check-in areas
- Paying sick employees to stay home
- When possible, tracking staff movements and limiting changes. While this may be very difficult at times, if you have a staff member who does become ill, parents will want to know if he/she had contact with their children. And they will look to you for answers.
- Pay attention to what’s happening in your local area. If you’re in an area with a spike of suspected cases, you may be under more pressure to close or modify your processes than if you’re in an area with very few infections.
Finally, Jason noted that it is important to get ahead of rumors. If parents don’t hear from you, they may or may not make assumptions and you want to be super clear on what they can expect.
After Jason presented, Kathy shared some items to think about, particularly on the potential economic impact. She noted that the situation will have at minimum a short-term economic impact and may have broader and longer-lasting impacts. She recommended that child care centers get their “financial house in order” and “think through the hard questions.” The questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- What happens if I need to shut down my school for 2 weeks? (Do I have a liquidity plan?)
- If I shut down the school, will I still pay staff? Will I pay all staff or more senior members of my staff?
- If I continue to pay the educators and staff at my school, what can I have them do at home (e.g, online training, curriculum planning, classroom readiness)
- Do I need parents to continue to pay full tuition in the event of a shutdown? What will I offer parents or families who may be experiencing economic hardship?
- Can I continue to pay staff if I don’t collect tuition for a period of time? How long could I do this for with the cash I have at-hand?
She also recommended as part of a center’s financial plan and evaluation that you collect on any accounts receivables as soon as possible and consider pushing out a capital investment such as building a new playground or buying new equipment. Kathy mentioned that groups such as ECE are gathering information now about the impact of any potential shut-downs in order to educate lawmakers. This could mean potential relief in the form of payroll taxes, but that is still very much up in the air.
Finally, Kathy and Jason both emphasized keeping any communication age-appropriate for children who are hearing many mixed messages from the media. Reminding kids that this virus is unlikely to make them ill is a good start. Adding that they need to wash their hands thoroughly so they don’t potentially make anyone else ill is also smart. And, it may also be the time to get a bit creative. One child care center created a contest to see which classroom could come up with the best hand washing song. Stay safe and stay informed.
You may access that recording via the following steps:
- Scroll down to Watch Past Masterclass Events and click on the image for “The Essential Elements to Keeping Your School Healthy”
Kathy and her team will be sponsoring another webinar this coming Monday, 3/16, with the team at Childcare Network. You’ll be able to sign up here: https://hingebrokers.com/masterclass-series