Addison County Early Childhood Position Statement

Addison County Early Childhood Position Statement Novel Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19) Response to the Addison

County Community March 23, 2020

Long-form ResponseIntroduction: The Addison County Early Childhood Education (ECE) community includes Center Based Childcare and Preschool Programs (CBCCPP) and Registered or Licensed Family Provider Homes (FCCH) The following observations, comments, suggestions, opinions and questions emanate from these dedicated, committed, thoughtful, ECE professionals.

Purpose of this missive:  We are sharing these ideas so our partners from various sectors know what is foremost in our minds right now and to solicit your continued support.

Gratitude: First and perhaps foremost, we appreciate how hard everyone is working to address this pandemic thoughtfully and safely. We are grateful for the subsidies and many forms of guidance currently being provided.

Childcare is a unique and essential business: The coronavirus crisis has made crystal clear that childcare is essential to the health of children, families, and the economy. To support families and do our job well, we also need support(s).

1.          We consider the best-case scenario is for children to remain at home with their families e.g., observing social distancing protocols, AND to receive sufficient and appropriate supports so families can function optimally. With the supports they need-early educators and foster parents could stay “working” to provide supports while maintaining social distance protocols with financial support.

2.          During times of crisis, we would do better to build a robust system of support(s) for families within their own homes.  Early educators, who know the children, could be paid to create a home-based response (Head Start and the Addison County Parent Child Center (ACPCC) are already doing this).

3.    We need robust public investment in childcare, as an essential industry, if it is to recover once this health care

crisis abates. The time to act and put effective amendments in place is now. Many within our childcare network are expressing concerns along these lines.

One provider stated:

Some [programs] are closed, and for those caring for children right now, they need something to believe in…they need to believe that they are heard, that help is actually coming, and that the people writing all these emails understand their worries. Family Child Care Providers are a unique group of individuals who require a unique approach…we need to know that we won’t be overlooked or forgotten as we sometimes feel like we are.”

Another concerned friend said:

Nothing says broken health care and early education systems like the working conditions of early educators, most of whom don’t have health insurance and are paid wages not even close to livable wage…(yet) they are being asked to buck up and take care of the kids of essential

workers. Thank you to those who are saying “yes” and I hope this bright light shining on our broken systems changes the national dialogue once we are through this challenging time.”

4.          Stress, confusion, unknowns, mental health: There are many unknowns and a lot of confusion as new systems and strategies are being developed. This engenders fear in children, families, and their providers.

5.          Putting young children in unfamiliar settings, with people they don’t know, and prohibiting physical/comforting behavior, is likely to cause significant emotional trauma. It may undermine the goals of social distancing that seems to be our best defense against the virus.

As one of our childcare network stated:

My thoughts keep coming back to the stress I feel every time adults and children walk through my door…every cough, sneeze, sniffle leads to a state of anxiety and drains my reserves of patience and calm.  It’s not within my control, and not necessarily rational, but it’s there.”

More virus testing will help: We are aware that currently, the Vermont State Laboratory is able to process 90-100 coronavirus tests daily. Because of the lack of resources, there is tremendous pressure to prioritize tests for those of the highest need such as individuals needing hospitalization and health care workers.

1.          With that in mind, we request that testing be available for all emergency/essential workers and families, including their children, even if they are asymptomatic before they go into childcare. This is especially important for children who are attending an unfamiliar childcare program.  When testing becomes more widely available, and turnaround time is reduced from several days to minutes, this may be easier to do.

2.          Testing childcare providers, children, and their family members could go a long way toward reassuring us about the containment and safety of childcare programs that remain open. It will be of utmost importance to consider the mental health of childcare providers as they provide care to children of essential personnel.

As one provider eloquently stated:

To care for the children of essential personnel, any children, of course, I need to feel calm, nurturing, caring…I need to be able to self-regulate.  In this atmosphere of unknowns and insecurity, health-wise and financially, this is next to impossible. It takes all the energy I have to take a deep breath and be my best self for the children in my care.”

Financial concerns and stresses: The two public funding streams currently available, namely the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) and Universal Pre-K, are only a small portion of the income required to run the childcare system.

1.    Family Child Care Homes (FCCH) are worried about payments; staying open is preferable to some of them.

2.          Most FCCH have, at most, 6 children and one adult. This is within the State guidelines of no more than 10 adults and children in a group. With financial supports to cover the costs for decreased attendance in these uncertain times, it is conceivable that these programs will be able to remain open to serve emergency/essential workers’ children. In fact, even when programs remain open, many families are opting to stay at home and observe social distancing as recommended.

3.          Most Center-based programs, and FCCH in particular, are dependent on private tuitions (along with a complex array of private supports) to stay afloat. Saving ‘slots’ for children is not the issue; being able to remain viable throughout the closure period so programs can reopen is the concern. More support for childcare providers will be required.

4. Families paying private tuition, without the benefit of CCFAP or any other subsidy, are being asked to continue to pay tuition even though programs are closed. This is a double whammy for families who are challenged to pay for childcare when they have a steady income, and who will now experience significant reduction in or loss of wages.

5.          We will be following the latest guidance as per the “stabilization payment” from the Child Development Division (CDD). FCCH and private pay programs have a smaller clientele base and possibly/probably a smaller financial cushion for sustained closure. We hope that the new stabilization payment requirements will be understood and accepted by our families.

6.          We anticipate that funding beyond the stabilization subsidy will be required to compensate for private payers, and to help cover our loss of funding and grants.

7.          Specific and specialized programs run through the Addison County Parent/Child Center (ACPCC) may not be funded going forward. Grant-making organizations have already started to contact us advising they are unable to make new commitments during 2020/2021. There is growing concern around this.

8.          We appreciate the efforts to ensure that childcare programs are “held harmless,” at least until August 2020, for families receiving Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) support and the programs in which their children are enrolled. We also appreciate the continued payments to all programs, including center-based, home-based and PreK programs.

9.    We would like to suggest we extend the “holding harmless” measure to extend to families as well.

Mixed, conflicting, confusing messages:  There are mixed messages and differing points of view within our local childcare community about closure or staying open. Falling into these two places-Center based/Pre-K partners/subsidy recipients- these programs may have larger financial cushions to maintain a sustained closure than the smaller family home provider programs.

1.          We recognize that remaining socially isolated wherever possible will slow the spread of COVID-19. All but two Addison County childcare programs have closed, at least until we have more clarity about the situation. However, this socially responsible stance is creating an overwhelming sense of conflict around “how best to help?” We know that staying at home helps contain the virus, yet what about those who need help? As a community, it seems that we are gradually figuring this out.

2.          Only if the child of an “essential person” truly has no other extended family, might these teachers be paid extra to care for the child at the familiar center?

3.          We question the number of people who identify themselves as needing to work. For example, viewing foster care as essential workers may be misguided in this instance. This potentially reflects a misunderstanding of childcare. We suggest that foster care could be viewed in the same way as public-school providers, who are, in the main, socially distancing themselves and working from home.

Questions that need more consideration:

1.    What base funding is needed to ensure people can remain in business to offer childcare when things are ‘back to normal’?

2.          What does each childcare provider need for operational costs and additional programs going forward? How can this be assessed?

3.    Extension of sick days: should people apply for unemployment benefit, when it clogs up the system?

Ideas, creative dreaming:

1.          We are asking businesses to ‘climb out of the box with us’. Businesses could consider other possibilities around work hours for employees who have children. For example, employers could offer to scale back hours and offer shorter shifts to their employees. This might reduce the number of childcare hours for children of emergency/essential workers. [We need to consider how families feel about having shorter shifts and fewer hours. Would they be compensated for staying home? If so, How?]

2.          Perhaps through advocating for shorter hours for all, basic minimum pay, and a cross-sector collaborative effort, we can ensure businesses remain open when essential, and individuals are able to take care of themselves and their families during these challenging times.

3.          We want to engage in broader coordination with our local medical, business, and philanthropic partners. We need to tap into the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance and the Parent Child Center Alliance and advocate collectively.

4. We want to participate in local coordination. We should be first among our early education colleagues to receive the fluid and changing information available from licensing, State government, the health department, etc. Darla Senecal from BBF is doing a great job distributing daily newsletters containing local information.

5. There is a call for Addison County residents to have a local, central online point for information and contact. “211” is a State number and is not nimble enough to respond to local needs and requirements during this time. Local cases should be managed locally: Vermont Strong, the Addison County Way.

Looking to the future:

Many young professional families have returned to Vermont during this time of crisis, knowing that they and their children will be safer here than in the big cities.  If we implement a sensible childcare system now, they may well decide to stay.

The most highly relevant science-based messages are urging both supportive relationships and social distancing as critical priorities. Prolonged physical separation is absolutely necessary to slow down the progression of a pandemic; responsive social interaction is essential for strengthening resilience in the face of adversity.’ Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Harvard Center on the Developing Child, March 2020.

Social distancing     Social Connectedness    Social Solidarity

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