By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive
Across the country, child care centers are faced with an excruciating decision: stay open and risk a possible outbreak of COVID-19, or shut the doors and leave children and families without the care they need and teachers without steady employment. In unprecedented situations like the one we are facing now, there are no easy answers. At this point, most states are leaving the decision up to individual centers. And in making the decision for a center, there are many factors management need to weigh. Top of mind are the needs of three important groups.
Even as many businesses temporarily shutter and others mandate that employees work from home, there will still be people who need to report to work and need care for their children. Often, the people who most need child care are those in vital roles of service, including medical staff, retail workers, and those who care for other vulnerable populations. With a society that is increasingly mobile, many families find themselves without a social safety net of care in a time of need. Those people count on the safe and reliable care of their neighborhood child care center.
It is no secret that child care teachers are paid much less than they are worth. Those who care for, love, and educate our nation’s children deserve to make millions of dollars. But the truth is that many live paycheck to paycheck. And those paychecks are dependent on the tuition that families pay for their children’s care. If centers close, there is no money with which to cover teachers’ salaries. By staying open, centers are providing thousands of teachers with the means to pay their rent and put food on their tables.
Finally, but by no means least important, is the fact that by staying open, centers are providing an invaluable service to the children in their care. In times of uncertainty, children need high-quality and consistent care. They need the reassurance of the warm comfort of beloved caregivers and familiar routines. When centers close and families are forced to seek care elsewhere, children may experience additional stress in an already stressful time.
Just because a center is staying open, it does not mean that they are not taking seriously the risk that COVID-19 presents to a community. Most are taking special precautions to safeguard children and staff while the threat is active. These include limiting the people who come and go in centers, increasing sanitizing and cleaning, screening children and staff as they enter, and supporting children, families, and staff in keeping themselves healthy.
No matter what decision a center makes, clear and consistent communication is so important. A center should communicate regularly about updates and timelines. They can also provide at-home learning activities for children and keep in touch with families to provide them with resources on supporting their children through these challenging times.
Coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak usually includes the word unprecedented, and there is no better word to discuss what is happening in the world right now. As a human society, we are facing a threat unlike anything in the past. We don’t know what is going to happen, but there is one thing we do know, and it’s a message we can pass on to children:
We will get through this. We do not necessarily know what the other side looks like, but we will emerge into it. We are all in this together, and if we can be kind, compassionate, and patient with one another, we will be okay.
Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed.,has worked in the field of early childhood for over 30 years, starting as a “teacher’s helper” in her younger brother’s center. She has served as a teacher, director, trainer, and family educator in numerous child care settings across Michigan, South Carolina, and Spain. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
Michelle is the author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive.
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