Now that Governor Charlie Baker has ordered child care programs to close to slow the pace of coronavirus infections, many early education and care (EEC) providers are sharing concerns about their sudden challenges.
(Emergency child care is still available for health care workers and other critical professions including grocery story workers and law enforcement.)
As policymakers steer through this public health crisis, they should listen to the voices of early educators who are trying to stay well, support families, and avoid economic collapse.
In response to a Strategies for Children survey, providers have shared their short- and long-term concerns.
Among the immediate concerns:
• Will children lose development supports while they are at home?
• How can providers keep children and staff safe and healthy?
• How can providers manage the extra costs of cleaning supplies to keep their spaces safe?
• Should programs continue to charge private pay families? On one hand, programs need income to survive. On the other hand, some parents are losing pay and can’t afford to pay for services they are not using.
The Attorney General’s office has provided some guidance, calling for “child care programs to work with families to reach a mutually agreeable resolution,” and adding that, “In all cases, programs must abide by the existing contract with parents. If, under an existing contract, parents have the right to cancel services and/or obtain a refund of any tuition they have already paid, programs should honor those rights.”
Among EEC providers’ long-term concerns:
• Now that so many children can no longer attend early education and care programs, will they be prepared for kindergarten?
• Are infants and toddlers who are no longer in EEC programs being exposed to high-quality language?
• How are families doing without the structure of work and EEC programs and in the face of social distancing?
• Can early educators survive the economic turmoil? And can EEC programs survive it? If, for example, there is long-term unemployment, will EEC programs shut down because parents who are out of work do not need child care?
• How, in particular, can family child care providers endure? Some are worried that the coronavirus could be brought into their workplace/homes. Others are concerned about keeping their programs financially afloat and about paying their own bills.
• Will policymakers pay attention and take action on behalf of children, families, and early educators?
These questions create what may be the greatest advocacy opportunity of our times. Even in the face of stress and uncertainty it is essential for EEC providers to speak up and let state, and federal lawmakers know what’s happening in their programs and in the lives of families.
The EEC workforce has expert advice to offer on the needs of children and young families, information that must be shared to ensure that even in the face of a pandemic, the needs of young children will not be ignored.
Strategies for Children wants to keep hearing from you. Please let us know more of your short- and long-term needs by completing this online form. Your feedback is powerful. Hearing about the real life, day to day challenges will help inform our advocacy and communication strategies. Please share the link to this online form with your networks.