Child care has always been a through line for communities, supporting children and families in a myriad of ways, but its essential role has been underscored throughout the pandemic. While schools and businesses shut down in the spring of 2020, child care remained open in some capacity in most states so essential personnel could continue to work to keep communities running. The child care sector now faces the uncertainty of an unprecedented school year and the challenges that come along with a new demand for care for school-age children as remote learning becomes the new norm. Child care cannot meet these demands on its own. The system needs sufficient policy solutions.
To support the viability of child care this school year, state policymakers need to implement measures that consider, at minimum, these three things:
- Including and engaging the child care community in cross-sector conversations around school district plans throughout the year.
- Continue providing dedicated funds to keep child care providers in business and supplies to protect children, their families, and early childhood educators.
- Regulating new programs that expand child care options to accommodate school-age children participating in remote learning so health and safety standards are not compromised.
To support a community’s ability to navigate the school year safely, cross-sector collaboration is needed at the state and local levels throughout the school year, not just at the onset. While school district decisions are often made at the local level, state and local policymakers can urge lead state agencies to issue strong joint guidance that addresses partnership between child care providers and schools. The role that Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies play has only become more valuable since the start of the pandemic, and policymakers must ensure they are included in planning as they can identify and prioritize existing child care options within communities (as Virginia and Washington did).
- Virginia’s guidance suggests establishing an education liaison to communicate with child care partners, offering training on resources used for remote learning, sharing attendance guidance with child care providers, and coordinating communication efforts with parents about positive COVID-19 cases and potential exposure in schools and child care settings.
- Washington pulled together a diverse stakeholder group, including its CCR&R, to develop guidance that included school districts, child care programs, and out-of-school time providers.
- Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education collaborated to issue joint guidance to support expanded access to child care in response to school year needs.
- New Mexico’s Early Childhood Education & Care Department is partnering with its Public Education Department, the state’s Regional Educational Cooperatives and the CCR&R at the University of New Mexico to connect families who need child care with providers that can offer it.
Financial Support, Cleaning Supplies, and PPE
There are cases of localities footing the bill or using philanthropic funding to provide safe spaces for school-age children to participate in remote learning. States should use remaining CARES dollars to support the growing needs of child care providers during the school year, especially as distance learning adds more stress to the system, as well as for needed cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- New Jersey is allocating $250 million of its federal dollars to provide restart grants for child care providers that reopen by October; an increase of $75 in monthly subsidy payments per eligible child to providers through December; full-time subsidy for families whose annual household income falls below 200 percent of the poverty level; and tuition assistance for families not previously eligible for subsidies whose income is below $75,000 a year.
- Vermont is providing $12 million in CARES Act funds to support a network a new system of child care “hubs” around the state designed to accommodate school-age children whose schools are operating remotely.
- Wisconsin announced an additional $30 million in CARES Act funds through two new targeted programs to help fund staff recruitment and retention efforts and support health and safety compliance. The state is also making additional PPE available for providers.
States must also continue peak-pandemic policies that provide financial support for providers and families.
- New Mexico is extending its previous policies around eliminating parent copayments for the months of September and October.
- Tennessee is extending its child care payment assistance program to help essential workers access child care at no cost until the end of December 2020.
- Rhode Island continues to reimburse its child care assistance program providers based on early March enrollment numbers, not attendance, and continues to suspend all attendance requirements.
Health and Safety Regulations
States may be rushing to ensure there is enough supply of child care to meet an increased school-age cohort needing care, but this does not mean states should be rolling back health and safety standards to meet this demand. Policymakers need to establish criteria for new temporary school-age programs, as well as parent-led learning pods, to encourage registration (where applicable) and compliance to ensure they are safe to attend. This includes, but is not limited to, maintaining background check and facility inspection requirements.
- Pennsylvania learning pods with over six children must adhere to staff-to-child ratios, develop a COVID-19 Health and Safety plan aligned with the state’s Department of Health guidelines, and ensure compliance with background clearances.
- Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Learning is tasked with creating remote learning enrichment centers, which must meet agency operating standards around background record checks, health and safety standards, facilities checks, and child-to-staff ratios.
- Ohio announced that licensed child care providers may now care for school-age children who are remote learning and established a temporary license for new programs that must maintain certain safety measures, such as background checks.
- Wisconsin is using remaining federal funds to support costs of maintaining or enhancing compliance status, quality level, and increasing health and safety practices. Funds will help ensure high-quality care is available across state, specifically with younger age groups.
For more information, listen to CCAoA’s two-part webinar series on strengthening partnerships between schools, school-age child care programs, CCR&Rs and others in the child care space. And, use CCAoA’s resource, Considerations for Learning Pods: What Child Care System Professionals Can Do.
This blog will be updated throughout the 2020-2021 school year to review and highlight the best statewide policies being implemented to support child care. Please contact Diane Girouard, State Policy Analyst, with any policy updates happening in your state at Diane.Girouard@usa.childcareaware.org.