Child Care Matters... to the Community, Families, Businesses

In March of 2020, schools mandatorily closed in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID and not risk the lives of our teachers with a virus we knew very little about. However, at the same time, early childcare and education were asked to stay open. Not only were we asked to stay open, but our regulating office, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), also removed many of our regulations, like capacity numbers so that we could take in even more of the school-age children, who now had no school to go to. Yet, at this same time, we were not able to procure any PPE from the government. As you can imagine, this sent a clear message to ECE professionals that we are necessary but that our lives hold less value than others.
Now as we approach the beginning of our third year living in a pandemic, not much has changed for early childcare. In fact, things are significantly worse for the profession. Our regulations continue to change, our youngest does not have access to vaccines, and we still do not have access to PPE, rather each individual provider is left to their own. Luckily, I am part of a childcare network in Green County, where we had the know-how to personally reach out to our county emergency management system and ask if we could get supplies given the situation we are in. Kindly they agreed to help us out.
These past years have no doubt been some of the most difficult years that many will ever experience. With that said, I wanted to share my personal experience as the director and teacher of a group childcare center. Our goal is first and foremost the safety of our children. With a pandemic, we are forced to navigate through the myriad beliefs of many parents and their varying levels of concern about the virus. Some do not take any of it seriously, and some parents take every precaution to prevent the virus from coming into their household and subsequently into our center. Or, we have those that we have to repeatedly ask to please wear a mask when dropping off and picking up (and not just putting it under your nose either). Not only are we trying to appreciate each family’s perspective and keep the kids safe, but we are trying to remain in business at the same time. Pre-COVID, we would have between 12-16 teachers, today we only have 5 teachers left. And those teachers are giving their all.
I watch a teacher as she scoops up a one-year-old who had just fallen. She holds him close in her arms to comfort him with his big tears while snot runs down his nose, and inevitably the child coughs in the teacher’s face. I see the teacher do a slow blink and hold her eyes closed for a few long seconds. She opens her eyes after a long exhale, smiles down at the little boy, and continues to comfort him, and she keeps going. We in the profession know this all too well. During those few seconds after being coughed or sneezed on, many things are flashing through our tired brains. Is this child sick with COVID? If so, will it spread to the others? How can I afford not to be able to work for a week? If I do get sick will I be one of those that the virus takes down hard? All of these and more are constantly going through our heads all day. But when we open our eyes again after those seconds and look back down at the children we comfort, love, and care for, we keep going.
However, it is getting harder and harder to “keep going.” Providers are closing their doors every day, either they can’t afford to stay open, or they can’t afford their health to stay open.
This past year, our State government denied placing early childcare and education in the state budget. On December 23rd last month, the Joint Finance Committee denied the proposed use of remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for childcare, without reason.
The message all along has been clear to us.