A recent television news headline asked, “Can day cares stay open amid coronavirus outbreak?” The answer — yes — has confused many. It shouldn’t.
Day care centers are open because California, along with several other states, has declared child care an essential service. Child care workers are essential for our communities to function because they directly support workers essential to our communities.
We know nurses, grocery store workers, food service providers and police are needed in times of emergency. In order for those first-line workers to protect or feed us or provide medical care, they need to know their children are cared for in a safe, supportive environment.
In recent days, my company’s day care centers across California have continued to operate wherever possible (in some cases, school districts have shut down entire campuses, including our centers). As of this writing, there has been not one reported case of coronavirus among our staff members or children in our care.
We operate in accordance with state and federal health guidelines on the number of people allowed in one room. The centers are maintaining social distancing by reducing our classroom ratio to 12 students per adult caregiver and adjusting the daily activities to ensure distancing throughout the day. We initiate games children can play together but with their own materials and equipment or start projects they can work on simultaneously but at a distance from each other.
For example, at one of our sites, our teachers set up an obstacle course for the kids on the blacktop and field. Instead of having each child run through the course and tag a team mate, we had each child wait for the person ahead of him or her to leapfrog or go under the obstacle before moving in to take their turn. The kids were engaged in the activity and got lots of fresh air.
We also adhere to a vigorous, deep-cleaning regime, one beyond even our usual hyper-vigilant cleaning standards. If a case were reported, then that center would close immediately for a deep cleaning and thorough review.
In the past weeks, we’ve analyzed exactly who has been using our day-care centers and this is what we found: Farmers, grocery store employees, members of the military and national guard, water district employees, police officers, caregivers for the elderly, and numerous health-care workers and even other child-care workers left their children in our care. In Rocklin, a community northeast of Sacramento, a heart surgeon sent his child to one of our centers so he could be in the operating room, doing life-saving work.
We’re caring for essential workers’ children of all ages (we’re launching a new “pop-up camp program” for middle-school kids so parents will know their teenagers have a safe place to be as well).
The important work of a child-caregiver is often unsung. Indeed, a recent media list of essential services failed to include child care, a troubling omission.
We do not work in the service of child care because we crave the spotlight. We are here, working in the background, supporting our communities, ensuring that those who work on the front lines have the supports they need. We’ll be here for the duration and beyond, doing our part like all the other essential workers.
Susan Dumars is the president of Continuing Development Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates more than 160 child-care centers throughout California, serving more than 20,000 children through age 12.