There may not be enough spaces to go around but it’s too early to know, child-care officials said in interviews. There were waiting lists prior to provincial lockdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While measures designed to keep kids and staff safe have reduced centre capacities, some parents may not need child care as they’re working from home or they just may be reluctant to send them.
“It will be a slow process and I would really dearly love to be able to see each and every family who was with us in March return to us as soon as possible,” said Dennis Morrison, who oversees five YMCA child-care programs, all reopening Thursday.
“But we are being cautious and we are following the regulations as per the ministry.” YMCA of Owen Sound Grey Bruce runs programs in Owen Sound, Port Elgin, Kincardine, Ripley and Hanover.
Children who attend Y child-care programs full-time will be offered spaces first.
The Ministry of Education must approve each child-care operator’s reopening plans, based on detailed ministry guidelines, part of Ontario’s second stage of reopening. Child care is considered critical to allow the economy to restart.
Local licensed child-care providers are figuring out how to comply with the new requirements – particularly the limit of 10 people per classroom, including staff – which in Grey County means centres on average would be just 30 per cent full.
“That’s really a challenge,” said Barb Fedy, Grey’s social services director, who doubles as the system manager for licensed childcare. Reopening rules impact staff, cleaning, use personal protective equipment and more.
“It’s a massive undertaking to adhere to the requirements in COVID-19 standards.”
Two centres in Grey have openned so far as she knew, with more reopening next week and the week after. But a couple of other operators she didn’t name aren’t reopening because of the heavy COVID requirements, Fedy said.
She’s waiting for provincial clarification about how much money will be allotted for COVID-related childcare centre expenses locally. It’s much needed she said; cleaning costs alone are “through the roof.”
The province allowed child-care centres to reopen as of June 12 and has promised financial relief for the added costs caused by COVID-19, like extra disinfection, personal masks and staff.
Only child-care programs for essential workers have been allowed for the past few months.
With no fees coming in since March and ongoing costs to be paid, and just 70 spaces able to reopen of the 221 spaces occupied before day cares were closed, cost is a real concern, Morrison at the Y said.
Owen Sound’s East Ridge Community School has a Y child-care centre with a capacity of 78 spaces pre-COVID but will accommodate just 28 kids attending full-time. Two teachers are assigned per class now; one to teach and one to clean.
Morrison will be allowing cohorts of up to seven kids and two staff per child-care centre classroom. That way, if one child educator gets sick, there would be a replacement. Kids won’t be asked to wear masks.
There will be no common play stations; each child will get a bag or bin of “sensory” materials such as Play-Doh, sand or container of water, to limit commonly touched items. Kids may not bring backpacks or their own toys.
Kids in the same class only may play with a bin of shared toys outside but those must be sanitized after.
Wooden blocks will be banished because they’re hard to clean, as will plush toys and all carpets. What remains will be cleaned one to three times a day, as per requirements.
Kids in one room won’t mix with kids in another. If a child gets a fever or cough, he or she will be directed to public health to be tested as a priority. If COVID is confirmed, everyone from that room would go home and get tested, Morrison said.
Entrance screening questions will be asked, such as about symptoms, all based on provincial and local public health unit guidance. Attendance will be taken to help with contact tracing if needed. Staff, not parents, will escort the kids into the centre.
This week, photos of the modified classrooms and of teachers with and without masks were shared with parents and children in hopes it helps make the changes more familiar, Y child-care centre supervisor Doris Lang said in Owen Sound.
Public health nurses are helping child-care providers meet the reopening guidelines and one of them, Amanda McManaman, said parents across Grey-Bruce should feel comfortable that the centres with approved plans to reopen will be safe.
“I am a parent myself and if I needed child care I do feel confident that with these health and safety protocols in place that children will be safe and protected from COVID,” she said.
Her best piece of advice? Don’t send sick children to child care.
“There really is a clear line here: any child develops symptoms at all that aren’t considered normal for them, so not because of allergies, that they do not go to daycare. That I think may be the biggest piece in this.”
Meanwhile, parents should become aware of what child-care centres expect of them and should continue to follow pandemic protocols we all are asked to follow, including limiting social groups to 10 people and physical distancing.
Bruce County has 38 centres and all are working towards reopening through the summer or by September, said Christine MacDonald, director of human services for Bruce County, the service system manager for licensed child care there.
The county in a news release Tuesday updated parents on the progress on reopening child-care centres and shared some new rules. Demand is somewhat unknown and so it urged families inform their child-care provider of their needs.
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