With circumstances changing rapidly during this coronavirus pandemic, child care centers are faced with the daunting task of determining the right course of action daily – sometimes hourly. There’s little precedent for a situation like this, so it’s no wonder centers are unclear on appropriate responses or action plans to take to keep their employees, children and families healthy while also providing support to parents who rely on child care to allow them to work.
This week, Hinge Brokers hosted a webinar featuring leaders of multi-state child care provider, Childcare Network, who provided a first-hand account of how their team has been addressing the coronavirus. They shared best practices and lessons learned and provided a detailed overview of their response when one of their teachers tested positive for coronavirus.
Childcare Network CEO, David Evans, kicked off the call with the fundamental learnings he has gleaned over these last few weeks:
- Communication, Communication, Communication – it’s important to create an environment where team leaders can talk together. There are no right answers, just thoughtful choices.
- Remain calm, despite the stress. No decision made out of fear is ever a good one.
- Anticipate a rapidly changing landscape that you do not control. With the virus moving at light speed, decisions today may need to change tomorrow.
- Make sure we are taking care of ourselves and each other. When we care for ourselves, we can be much more helpful to others, so it’s important to take the time to do that.
David provided some sage wisdom from leaders like Tom Wyatt, CEO of Kindercare, who said that the critical focus for our centers during this time is to treat them like sanctuaries for our children. This virus and the resulting measures we’re taking globally can be scary for kids, parents and teachers alike, so it’s important that we ensure our centers are safe places.
Colonel Jack Jacobs, a Medal of Honor recipient, suggested that we all need to think of ourselves as first responders for our children. It’s critical we conquer our own fears and serve our children at this critical time.
President of Childcare Network, Chris Smith, provided a more tactical overview of recommendations. Some of the key tactics he highlighted include:
- Institute a response team, comprised of a core group of decision makers. His team meets at 7:30 a.m. each day, and depending on what the day’s situation demands, may meet again at the end of the day.
- Inventory the tools you have to communicate to your stakeholders – such as your website, social media, emails, parent engagement applications, etc. Check your mailing lists and other data to ensure they’re correct, and update as necessary.
- Look at the facility itself and figure out ways to configure the building(s) in the event you are able to welcome children whose schools may have closed. Also work on ways to limit access into the building (for example, not allowing parents into the classroom).
- Make sure you have a rigorous cleaning strategy in place.
- Think about your sales and pricing approach. Chris acknowledged this was a moving target for his organization, but that they were having important conversations around pricing adjustments.
- Keep human resources top of mind. There are a lot of questions around pay and health issues, so have a plan to address them.
- Plan for how you’ll tackle procurement of cleaning supplies, food for the children, office supplies and other items. Chris said he’s created a team focused on this issue to ensure it’s a priority.
- If your center does close, or you have parents who choose to keep their kids at home, explore the use of online educational tools to help keep the children engaged in learning.
Jaime Rechkemmer, VP at Childcare Networks, offered an in-depth look into how her team addressed a situation where a teacher tested positive for coronavirus. In the webinar, she highlights the key actions her team took, including:
- Immediately contacting the state health department.
- Closing the school and taking the time to thoroughly disinfect it.
- Determining who interacted with the infected teacher. Jaime emphasized that it was important to remember the teacher is a person, and that it’s important not to lose sight of the human in the situation. Jaime also advised to have solid attendance tracking, including child arrival, classroom transitions and departure times.
- Asking those who directly interacted with the teacher to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Reopening the school with clear guidelines around “slowing the flow” between classrooms, to reduce potential exposures.
Each of the presenters on the webinar made it clear that since the situation is fluid, it’s important to be able to quickly adjust as needed. What made sense yesterday, may not make sense today, and centers need to be able to course correct to ensure their staff, children and parents feel safe and valued.
To see the full webinar, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz5Co0dwDy8&feature=youtu.be.