#childsafety | Local daycares not rushing to reopen amid ‘nervous’ environment

Many were ‘caught off guard’ by announcement to reopen official says; Local facilities will welcome far fewer children and less staff than before

Daycares in Ontario were given the green light to reopen as of June 12, but many still aren’t ready to welcome kids back yet.

The province made the announcement a few days before June 12, leaving daycare facilities little time to prepare to get back in business.

“It’s not for a lack of trying,” Rebecca Koza, executive director of the West Ridge Early Education Centre, said of the University Avenue facility not being open yet.

“It’s waiting for all of the guidelines and making sure we’re doing it safely. From what I gather, everyone was caught off guard by the reopening announcement.”

She expects the centre to reopen sometime this month.

The non-profit daycare is preparing its policies for operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and is making sure it has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.

“We could open and then have an outbreak or a second wave, and then you’re closing down again and starting fresh,” she said.

When it does reopen, the West Ridge Early Education Centre will provide full-time care, Monday to Friday, but at reduced hours.

The centre is licensed for 165 kids per day, but it will only have 44 when it opens again. It will also welcome back 23 staff members. About 50 were laid off when the doors were shut in March.

Under the new guidelines, no more than 10 people, including staff, can be in a room at the same time, so there will be a ratio of either three staff to seven kids or two staff to eight kids.

While it will be a different experience, the goal is to make sure the children are “as safe as possible but still having fun,” Koza said.

That’s what Orillia Central Preschool will do, too, when it reopens July 13.

“We will make it as comfortable and fun as we can for the kids,” said executive director MaryAnn McLennan.

She acknowledged it could be upsetting for the children at first, since no family members will be allowed inside.

“These children have been home for four months and now someone in full protective gear is going to screen them, take them from their parents and into the school,” she said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to go. The kids might not even recognize them anymore.”

The plan is to have a ratio of two staff to eight kids. Usually, it’s closer to three staff to 23 children.

McLennan will be hiring back about 36 of the 48 employees who were laid off when the centre closed.

There will be a significant reduction in the number of kids allowed to attend Orillia Central Preschool’s summer program that it runs out of Orchard Park Public School. The camp-like program typically includes 100 kids per day. When it starts again July 13, only 16 will attend daily.

Despite the disruption, McLennan feels fortunate because she has been able to access government funding to stay afloat during the pandemic. That includes the 75 per cent wage subsidy and a $40,000 business loan.

While some parents are excited to have their kids return to daycare, “most are very, very nervous,” McLennan said.

Many have found alternative care arrangements. However, “I have other parents who really don’t have much of a choice and need to go back to work,” she said.

Koza, too, was somewhat surprised to see “how many families are choosing to take more time” before sending their children back to daycare.

“I was expecting that there might be a greater need for care, but that could come later as we continue to reopen our economy,” she said.

Criteria to reopen

To reopen, child care providers must follow a number of health and safety protocols.

Limit attendance: Each room in a child care centre can have a maximum of 10 people, including staff and children. Each group (cohort) of 10 people must stay together throughout the day and cannot mix with other groups (cohorts) in the centre.

Create a COVID-19 (coronavirus) response plan: All child care settings must have a plan in place if a child, parent, staff member or child care provider is exposed to COVID-19.

Screen for symptoms: Everyone must be screened (for example, have their temperature checked) before they enter the child care setting. Anyone feeling unwell must stay home. Home child care providers feeling unwell cannot offer service.

Log daily attendance: Child care providers must keep daily records of everyone entering the child care setting. This will help support contact tracing.

Clean frequently: Child care providers must thoroughly clean the space, toys and equipment frequently and regularly, according to public health advice.

No non-essential visitors: Non-essential visitors are not allowed to enter the child care setting.

Create drop-off and pick-up protocols: Child care providers must establish drop-off and pick-up protocols that facilitate physical distancing.

Source: Province of Ontario

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