Georgia Has Reopened: Are Child Care Providers Ready?
Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms
As of May 1, Georgia’s shelter-in-place order is lifted and the state has begun reopening. Now, parents are heading back to work, and the demand for child care is expected to increase.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), child care centers have had to figure out how to stay afloat. Business insurance does not cover a health crisis and any subsequent closings. Child care providers are working through scenarios, such as how to continue paying teachers who are working as families stay home and discontinue paying tuition. Early childhood education organizations are experiencing as much as a 90% or 100% loss in tuition revenue due to the pandemic shutdown. Many have had to make the difficult decision to close. According to our partners at GEEARS and Quality Care for Children, 63% of child care learning centers and 62% of home centers reported that they were less than four weeks away from closing for good. According to the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), which is responsible for licensing child care centers and home-based child care, more than half of all providers in the state remain closed.
Following the advice of Governor Brian Kemp and public health authorities, Sheltering Arms closed all 14 centers mid-March. Like many of our peers, we shifted our focus to relief efforts, connecting with all of our families to assess their needs and helping our most vulnerable with food, diapers and personal hygiene products so they can stabilize during the crisis. Our teachers and curriculum staff are also providing virtual lessons and activity packets to help keep students learning and on track as much as possible.
Many childcare centers, including Sheltering Arms, are taking initial steps to prepare for reopening, but there is much to consider. In keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines and state health regulations, we would need to source and stock enough cloth face coverings and gloves for our staff, keep enough sanitizers and disinfectants on-hand to continue the enhanced cleaning of the building, toys and playground equipment, and determine whether or not it would be feasible to keep children ages three and older in a mask during the school day, as recommended by the CDC. Other factors to consider include safety regulations that call for a maximum of 10 individuals in the classroom, including children and staff (six in an infant classroom), which is well under capacity for most child care centers, child drop-off and pick-up safety procedures and keeping social distancing in mind while caring for young children.
Child care providers are crucial to the economic recovery. Parents need to go back to work, but we need support to sustain. Thankfully, federal emergency funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant under the CARES Act and local grants like the Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive (PAACT) stabilization grant program are now in place to address some of the most pressing needs, such as: financial assistance in case of decreased enrollment or closure so providers can reopen or remain open; and funding for the cleaning and sanitation of facilities to resume or maintain operations. We are hopeful for a trickle-down effect that will help us all – providers and the families we serve – weather the storm now and after the pandemic has been contained.