As businesses across Nebraska prepare to reopen in coming days and weeks, working parents may face another struggle: finding places for their kids to go.
Summer is approaching, and many summer camps and other programs have been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic also has caused some day cares to shut their doors indefinitely. Facilities that remain open are operating under guidelines provided by the state, which include keeping children in groups of 10 or fewer.
Affordable child care was already in short supply, said Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska.
“This crisis has made it even harder, and it’s shown us where the cracks are in our system and it’s made them bigger,” Sarver said. “Now the general public is starting to see that child care providers are essential personnel. Our economies and communities depend on them so businesses can stay open.”
Parents, many of whom have taken on home-schooling their children, already are feeling the stress of having kids at home all day. Adding to that, some may not have a choice in delaying a return to the office.
Sarver said people at the institute have heard from parents who are concerned they won’t be able to return to their previous child care providers because of restricted numbers or closures.
They also have heard from day care providers who are concerned about reopening because of finances and safety.
“Personally,” Sarver said, “I would hope that it does lead to some changes in terms of how we help parents find access to child care.”
Parents and child care providers are concerned about safety as things slowly start to reopen, said Mary Finney-Afrank, director of early childhood education with the Child Saving Institute.
“It’s not just thinking about what’s best for you and your children, but how your decisions impact the other kids and staff at your child care,” Finney-Afrank said. “It’s definitely a snowball effect when you’re worried about the risk.”
At the Child Saving Institute’s two child care centers, employees and families are asked to answer a series of questions before coming into work or dropping off children at the facility.
The centers have taken extra precautions by checking the temperatures of those entering the facility and requiring staff and children to wash hands when entering. They also facilitate curbside drop-offs and pickups so family members aren’t entering the facilities.
When looking for a day care provider, Finney-Afrank recommends that parents factor in the extra time those precautions may take. She also advises parents to remember to maintain good communication with teachers.
Finney-Afrank and Sarver recommend parents use the Nebraska Child Care Referral Network, a new online database of available, licensed child care providers. The service was unveiled in mid-April for parents looking for care providers. The site is updated weekly.