The uncertainty created by COVID-19 has left child care centers across the country with a lot of questions regarding the virus and its symptoms, the proper measures to take to ensure the health of the center, how to determine whether to close (and for how long), support for lost income, and the rules around instituting new policies and procedures for your center.
In Early Childhood Investigations’ latest webinar, “Bracing for COVID-19: What Early Childhood Programs Need to Know and Consider Now,” experts in child care health policy, emergency preparedness and business covered a lot of ground to answer many of the most pressing questions spurred as we grapple with a global pandemic.
Jessica Rose Malm, Senior Health Policy Manager for Child Care Aware of America, kicked off the webinar by emphasizing that now is not the time to panic, but rather a time to prepare, be vigilant and do all we can to prevent the spread of the virus. She then took time to review what coronavirus is, its symptoms and how it spreads (you can see the detailed slides here).
When it comes to child care centers’ response, she laid out some helpful guidance:
- While you must wipe down all toys and materials, it’s can be hard to disinfect playground equipment. In that case, make sure you have the children wash their hands before and after playing on the playground. You can also bring hand sanitizer with you to clean children’s hands mid-play.
- Here is a helpful list of cleaners that meet the EPA’s criteria for use against COVID-19.
- Teach kids to try new ways to greet their friends (i.e. a special dance or wave).
- Consider suspending family-style dining.
- Make sure you have a strong exclusion policy in place.
- Stagger arrivals and departures.
- Greet children at the door.
- Cancel outside visitors.
- Ask families to keep their children home if they can.
Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing:
- Understand that reactions may vary.
- Be a sensitive and responsive caregiver.
- Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.
- Provide age-appropriate information.
- Remember the three R’s: reassurance, routines, regulation.
- Keep busy.
- Increase self-efficacy.
- Seek professional help if children show signs of trauma that do not resolve.
- Emphasize strength, hope and positivity.
Julie Looper Coats, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response for Child Care Aware of America made it clear that her organization is working hard to urge federal and state governments to provide financial support to child care organizations. Click here to learn more about their advocacy efforts.
Julie then talked about important resources Child Care Aware of America has made available to child care centers and parents. They include:
- An interactive U.S. map that provides state-level information on closures, contact information for government officials and financial assistance.
- A decision tree to help you decide if you should close (note that her organization recommends that if the K-12 schools are closed in your area, you should close as well. However, there are exceptions for example if you’re providing care for children of emergency workers or medical personnel).
- Information on preparing and responding to a pandemic.
- A collection of blogs providing information on a variety of coronavirus-related topics.
- An easy way to send a letter to Congress encouraging its support of child care centers in any stimulus funding it passes.
Finally, Tom Copeland a child care industry author, trainer and advocate, provided his expertise on the business side of running a child care center during the coronavirus pandemic. He indicated that currently, there are no federal or state government programs designed to directly benefit child care programs (but that could change at any moment). Because of this, he has been receiving questions regarding the role insurance will pay in providing assistance to child care centers.
According to Tom, homeowners or business liability insurance likely won’t provide any coverage; however, if you have business property insurance, you may be covered. He encouraged child care centers to call their providers to get an understanding of their policies around lost income.
Tom also went through the importance of creating policies and procedures to address a pandemic, and when it’s appropriate to collect money from parents (hint: if your contract doesn’t explicitly say parents must pay even if a school shuts down for an extended period of time, you cannot require them to pay). He made it clear that if you make changes to a contract, a parent must sign to make it valid; however, if you make changes to policies, you do not need a parent’s signature to enact them (so long as they aren’t included in the contract).
Other topics Tom went through included:
- Can you charge subsidy parents after a school shutdown?
- Can you draft up a new parent/family contract that includes pandemic procedures?
- Can you charge parents who choose to keep their children home?
- Can you refuse care to a child?
- Do you have to offer paid sick days to staff?
- Am I or my staff entitled to unemployment?