The COVID-19 pandemic is as complex an issue as one could imagine. It has emotional, physical, and economic impacts on all of Georgia’s citizens. Public health experts are unanimous in their recommendation that social distancing is the best way to stop the spread. Federal, state, and local guidance all recommends staying home when possible. Governments, schools, and businesses are moving to all-virtual environments or closing their doors temporarily to protect the health and safety of our citizens.
But what does this mean for families with young children, and the early education professionals who serve them?
Young children have not been declared a particularly vulnerable population with respect to COVID-19. However, young children in child care settings may contribute to spread of the virus in families and communities.
Acknowledging this, GEEARS has written to policymakers urging them to consider closing most child care programs, while establishing a “Critical Child Care Network” for essential critical infrastructure workers who need care for their children. Such workers, according to the federal guidance, may include those in healthcare, public safety, grocery and food supply, and more. We have also asked government leaders to provide assistance to support child care programs and teachers to reduce the economic impact of closure.
In addition to state and local government mandates to close, there are concrete steps that families, businesses and communities can take to reduce the spread of the virus and protect health and safety.
Families, whenever practical, should keep their young children at home even if their child care program remains open.
While available data indicate that young children are at lower risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19, it is also evident that young children can experience severe illness and spread the virus in their local communities. Keeping young children home could slow the spread of the virus, keep families healthier, and will make it easier for providers to continue caring for children of essential workers who cannot stay home.
Child care programs should close to reduce community spread.
We do not make this call for closure lightly as we recognize that it brings with it the danger of more permanent closures of these vital programs, and we will work tirelessly to secure local, state, federal, and private funding to support and sustain the child care sector. The latest federal relief package includes significant financial and regulatory relief for the nation’s child care industry and represents an important first step in addressing the sector’s emerging needs.
Policymakers and businesses can work together to create a “Critical Child Care Network” to ensure that parents with critical jobs can continue to work.
The healthcare sector has some of the highest child care obligations in the United States, and a recent study estimates that single parents constitute 7% of the healthcare workforce. Other essential workers like grocery and pharmacy employees, first responders, and delivery personnel face a similar dilemma as they continue to work full-time and care for children.
GEEARS recently joined with other child care leaders and advocates to urge the Governor to fund a “Critical Child Care Network.” This network would allow select child care centers, family child care learning homes, and afterschool programs to remain open to serve frontline staff with full-time or respite care in as safe a manner as possible.
The participating locations will need to be adequately supported, whether through state funding or emergency federal dollars, with the distribution of assistance handled through existing channels of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. The safety of our children is paramount, as is the health of those caring for them: the child care personnel who are also on the front lines of the nationwide effort to combat this pandemic. The state must also issue proper safety guidelines and precautions to make child care programs safe for educators, children, and families during the crisis.
Government must support the child care industry.
These small businesses often operate on small margins, and without significant public support, many are at risk of permanent closure. In a recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 30% of child care providers said they would have to shut their doors permanently if they had to close longer than two weeks without significant public investment, and 16% said they couldn’t last more than a month.
Our child care sector needs immediate emergency funding from state, federal, and philanthropic sources. State and federal leaders must act quickly to support essential workers in need of child care and provide critical financial support to our state’s child care providers if we are to maintain a supply of safe, quality care during this urgent time and into the future.