The issues raised by parents include the fact that in addition to schools being closed, nurseries or daycare centres, which would usually be open in the summer, are also closed as they fall under the remit of the Early Childhood Commission.
This has left them with little to no options as to what will obtain regarding the supervision of their children when they return to work.
“My daycare has been closed since schools closed; hubby and I have had to juggle childcare since then. We can’t continue to juggle as we have to work. I’m hoping that my daycare can reopen, but even if it does, how can they protect the little kids? The biggest concern is not knowing where the aunties have been, who they’ve been around, and where the other kids have been. And that’s just if they’re allowed to open. If they’re not, I have no other option but to stay home with the kid cause my family is in the country,” Tanya Brown said.
For Brown, the options presented by her job are to either return to work or take 60 days’ non-paid leave, which has caused her to contemplate quitting.
“Me staying home with the kid is the wiser option, because my husband earns more. My job is basically forcing me to return to work or lose benefits, but if they insist, it’s more cost-effective to quit and take the money they owe me, than try to pay for childcare,” she said.
An essential worker said since the various lockdown measures, balancing work and caring for children who are at home has been “very hard”.
“You know the demands of my job, but to be at work as an essential worker, with a spouse who is also an essential worker, creates a real issue for the care of the kids. Normally school would account for most of the day, but now in COVID-19 they are home always, and it’s a serious challenge to continue to care for them while holding the commitment to serve your country,” he said.
He added: “Sometimes it comes down to a choice of going to work to fight COVID-19 on the front lines or staying home and protecting your family.”
The essential worker, a soldier, said now that his children are home their daytime supervision is left up to neighbours and family members who will also return to work on June 1. In lieu of that assistance, the decision is that either he or his spouse will have to occasionally skip work – a decision with grave implications.
“In my case, the implications might not be much because I can explain beforehand. In her case, she can lose pay,” he said.
In the case of Geena, her job’s decisions have left her feeling “victimised and boxed in”.
“I am in limbo because my workplace expects me to show up for work as usual on June 1, and they are threatening to lay me off without pay if I cannot find somewhere to send my two-year-old child by then. The child’s father is also expected to be at work physically, or he will be sent home with no pay. Neither of us makes enough money to take care of all of us, so we simply cannot afford to stay home,” she said.
Geena explained that if the daycare was open it would definitely be a big risk sending her son there, but it is one she is prepared to take to be able to provide for him.
“The daycare that my son attends is quite small. Once they put measures in place to properly sanitise all children and staff on entry, I don’t see the harm in opening it back up,” she said
Additionally, she said there are challenges with daycare operations for which she does not see a solution.
“You can’t reasonably expect small children to socially distance themselves. Even if only two children were there, they would be close to each other. The nursery can do it because all the babies stay in cribs, but mobile children will want to play together, and in close proximity to each other,” she said.
However, in the case of her son’s nursery, Geena said the institution has facilities where they can bathe the children. She said she would send her child there if they were allowed to reopen, under the condition that they sanitise or bathe the children upon entry and do not accept any children with symptoms.
Sophia Wilson, owner and operator of Aunty Terry Daycare, said since the closures took effect in March the most she has done is assist a parent if they have no other choice. But, if allowed, she is prepared to fully open on June 1.
“We sent out texts informing parents of the closure. Few have answered, but come June 1 we will see what happens. Since the closure, operations have scaled down massively. [But] if a parent calls me and says they get a call to go into work, then I assist. Otherwise, no children are being kept,” said Wilson, a daycare operator for over 20 years.
Further, she said if allowed to reopen, she is not looking for the full complement of children.
“I am coming from 26 children. In the next few months, I am hoping to pick up with 10 or 12. I am not looking for a full complement because that is going to be impossible, because I don’t think everyone plans to go out to work,” she said.
In relation to health and safety Wilson said going forward, a lot will have to change.
“I have to think about other people’s health, children’s health, and be more cautious than before,” she said.
Meanwhile, Karlene Degrasse Deslandes, executive director at the Early Childhood Commission (ECC), said the organisation has had preliminary discussions about how it will operate post-COVID-19 and still continue to promote the 12 legal operating standards.
“Currently, the Early Childhood Commission has 12 legal operating standards that govern the operations of ECIs (early childhood institutions) operating in Jamaica. There are two that focus on health and safety – standard six and standard eight, respectively. ECC continues to send weekly messages and tips to ECIs to reiterate the importance of implementing and maintaining these standards. As such, no adjustments will be made to the operating standards, however, we will continue to promote these standards to ensure the health and safety of children and staff members, [and will] be guided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness [MOHW] and share risk management tips with ECIs,” Degrasse Deslandes said
As for what will obtain come June 1, the ECC executive director said it is a challenging question as the ECC is guided by the MOHW and the Ministry of Education stipulations.
“The commission is awaiting directives from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and Health & Wellness in order to guide our discussions on changes to be effected in the early childhood development sector. Our inspectors and development officers will ensure that recommendations that are given by the aforementioned ministries will be implemented to the full extentas needed, for the continued growth and optimal development of our children,” she said.
Degrasse Deslandes, however, encouraged parents to have dialogue with caregivers and ask the questions that bring their fears to the fore.
“Ask the school or nursery, have you implemented a sanitisation protocol? Part of our standards speak to sanitisation, it speaks to the cleaning of toys for daycares, it speaks to the cribs and cots being placed specifically apart, it speaks to the changing of the bed linen, it speaks to the cleaning of the surfaces, it speaks to all these things. It speaks to institutions having a cleaning rota,” she said. “Over the last couple of weeks we have been exposed to a lot of information about COVID-19. It is being empowered now to ask those questions of the places they are now leaving their children.”
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