May 1st 2020
Addison County Reopening and Recovery: How Can we Best Support our Community to Make Sure this Happens Safely?
We are a regional ECE group representing just under 200 directors and providers, caring for over 800 children. Our directors’ network is comprised of Early Educators and small business owners, and our main concern is the health of the children in our programs, the families we serve, and the businesses we own and run. We need to shift paradigms. What does practice look like in the new normal? As the early childhood community in Addison County, we place the child at the center of all our decisions. We have conflicting reactions to reopening and recovery, including feelings of being overwhelmed; excitement; concern; and gratitude.
Nothing for us without us The ECE community would like to be part of the conversation to re-opening and recovery. Our aim is to ensure we can return to providing care and education as safely as possible. This will entail a well-compensated, well co-ordinated effort to inform new regulations, protocols, and guidelines. As practitioners and small business owners, we are at the grass roots of the ECE work and can inform and direct best practice moving forward. We want to be part of the solution and remain driven by the human element and the latest scientific guidelines to inform our decisions, not just the economy.
A Concrete Example: Some Hard Dollar Realities
We have prepared a concrete example below of what these costs will potentially entail, based on an Addison County PreK partner, with licensed teachers.
Pre Covid 19
• The center normally accommodates 35 3-5 year old children.
A regular day in the one room schoolhouse accommodates 2.5 FTE teachers and 20 children. Additionally, admin support is .5 FTE. Private tuition, PreK $, and Subsidy $ covers the costs of our program, and covers rent, supplies, maintenance and utilities, as well as three FTE employees.
• The marginal surplus income is $500/month (which is often unrealized). Additional costs, such as snowstorms, a fence repair, or sick days, can consume this margin very quickly.
Post Covid 19
• Reduced group size to ten will reduce our classroom population by more than half, from 20 children to eight.
• We aim to maintain staffing to cover increased cleaning and health checks. This will mean that we have two adults and eight children (to meet the 10 person group max). Additionally, we will require .5 staff for health checks and daily cleaning.
• 2.5 FTE staff to eight children. Same staffing (not including admin—another .5 FTE). This means we will be able to service 40% of children and families enrolled.
• In rough numbers and estimations, our monthly income will reduce by at least 50% from $20,000 to approximately $10,000.
• In contrast, our monthly expenses, made up primarily by staff salaries, will increase from $19,500 monthly to $20,000. This projected increase factors in a 150% increase in cleaning supplies and PPE, which is currently hard to estimate.
• In stark terms, the narrow operational margin of $500 is dwarfed in this scenario to an untenable deficit of $10,000 EVERY month. Not only are the health concerns and best nurturing practice for young children called into question, it is completely unrealistic to move to a business model that runs in the red by this amount each month.
We know we cannot return to the familiar ways. At this juncture, it is imperative to look at ways to strengthen and build a strong ECE system that supports the economy, through supporting children and families. We are inspired by our U.S. Congressman Representative Peter Welch, who recently stated “ …we need a system that allows for the security and well being of our families and our workers…this is a challenge that brings an opportunity…we need significant stable public funding…” (LGK conference call 4/27/2020).
Practicalities of re-opening
A stabilization and long term funding plan will be needed to meet the changing needs and increased costs. This needs to be handled delicately, slowly and thoughtfully.
• We are concerned that if we return too soon, and another health spike occurs, it will be devastating to have to close our doors again. We need the time to prepare ourselves. Getting concrete supplies will need to be planned carefully to comply with social distancing rules. The overwhelming sense is that we should go slowly, and with deep caution.
• Social distancing is impossible with infants and toddlers, and challenging at best with older children. We need to emphasize that our youngest, most vulnerable children need to be protected and defended.
• Our daily capacity will need to be lower, and we cannot afford to do that without being “held harmless”.
• To return, we will need a guarantee that all existing financial supports for children, families, programs, professionals and essential person remain until such time as schools re-open, most likely September 1st, if all goes to plan, and we do not get a second ‘spike’.
• We anticipate the additional staffing costs required to meet guidelines could be as high as double.
• From recent conversations we have had with providers currently providing spaces for essential workers’ children, there are reports that the tendency to focus on constant cleaning has been to the detriment of meaningful engagement with children.
• Additional staff person for cleaning every day- for multiple cleanings in every space daily.
• Exponential additional cleaning materials.
• Exponential additional PPE- masks, gloves, soap, hand sanitizer, thermometers.
ECE is the backbone and cornerstone of the community, and a well-compensated ECE workforce needs to be a priority. We need to further explore the possibility of full public funding. Paul Behrman of Head Start recently stated “This is an opportunity to revisit full public funding for birth to five services…this experience has really borne out the precarious nature of the industry…there have had to be a lot of stop- gaps put in place to support this really critical backbone of our society and that needs to change… ” (LGK conference call 4/27/2020).
Engage with Local Businesses
• We must use this opportunity to plan the ‘new normal’ with care and thought. We need to be driven by the HUMAN factor, and not just be driven by finance, business and the economy.
• By starting slowly and carefully, and adapting childcare schedules to meet the greatest needs, we need to work together as a community to make sure the sector becomes stronger and more sustainable (and happier and healthier in the long run).
• Businesses will need to be flexible and adaptive to meet the childcare realities that their employees are facing.
Emotional and Social Well-being
• The ECE workforce will find it challenging to return to work at 100% of pre-crisis levels, due to health concerns and guidelines as well as the childcare needs for children of staff.
Reduced hours will be a necessity for staffing reasons. This model will prove more effective for morale, staff training and planning, and ultimately best practice for working with young children.
• Many of our staff members are over 65, some are pregnant, and many have compromised health issues and anxiety. These factors will all impact on staffing numbers. We will have a clearer picture once the input from the CDD survey has been collated and interpreted.
• Programs that choose to reopen after June 1st will do so gradually.
• There is an overwhelming consensus that the majority of providers anticipate September the 1st as a more realistic opening date, unless there are changes to the current Covid-19 crisis. As a group, we support our colleagues who feel able to open their doors earlier, and we will be in close consultation with them. This will help inform our own best practice.
• It is important to recognize that social distancing for three to five-year-olds in classrooms is unrealistic, and impossible for babies and infants.
• We have deep concerns surrounding our ability to care for young children in a nurturing, loving way with the additional health and safety measures required. Expression and voice are of deep significance for social emotional development, particularly with babies and toddlers, and it feels unfeasible and developmentally inappropriate to wear protective masks and goggles. We are concerned that wearing them will be traumatizing, or at best, limit our ability to nurture relationships to the fullest of our ability.
• We question whether our programs can be run effectively following developmentally appropriate practices for each stage and age. We need to remember that babies and toddlers have different requirements and need to be considered separately from 3-5 year olds.
• We already anticipate that increased spending will be required for the mental health of staff and children for the trauma they have experienced.
Health and Safety
We are currently guided by the FAQ COVID Health and Safety for Providing Essential Care: https://www.healthvermont.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/FAQ%20COVID%20Health%20%26%20Safety%20in%20Child%20Care%204-14-20.pdf
• We have consulted the DOH guidelines and been in contact with programs that are currently operating. The reports are perplexing- the protocol around health checks and hygiene are both time consuming and expensive. Before Covid-19, the Childcare profession was already under great financial pressure. To ensure adherence to guidelines, there is a necessity for a lower ratio of ECE professionals to children. This reduced capacity effects funding and compounds the burden of an already broken system. This feels insurmountable at present.
• Safety is paramount –we are led by the science, and currently it is not deemed safe to return to some kind of new normal–as yet, the curve has not flattened. The ECE community does not want to become casualties along the way to opening up the economy.
• We need to be certain that we can open safely when we know that social distancing is impossible in ECE settings. Without developmentally appropriate practices, we could not operate in good conscience or good faith. We have philosophical concerns around best practice with infants, toddlers and young children.
• We need to ensure our ECE professionals receive paid time off and health benefits.
• We need to make sure our ECE facilities are able to conform to strict cleanliness and health guidelines, and we recognise that our needs for both supplies and manpower will be increased (see example above).
• It will be important for programs to have the supplies and supports required to meet the COVID-19 health protection guidelines. Getting these distributed and in place ahead of opening whilst adhering to social distancing rules will be crucial. There is already a concern that PEE equipment supplies are in short supply.
• Because of the strict health and safety guidelines, our numbers of returning children will be seriously reduced. We will need to ensure long-term subsidies to ensure childcare businesses can remain open and sustainable. We will require full ongoing funding.
Addendum: Questions to Further Expand the Discussion
1. What does a limited scale re-opening look like?
2. To comply with health and safety guidelines, many programs will need to build walls, and install doors and screens. Will these additional costs be fully financed?
3.There will be significant costs attached to deep and continual cleaning, additional uniform costs, and testing and safety products- masks, eye wear, gloves, thermometers. Will this be financed?
4. Family Friendly Information will need to be produced to help providers navigate parent and community expectations. We need to be cautious: we would rather under-promise and over-deliver. Can we rely on the state to back us in our approach?
5. Licensing issues. What about ‘at risk’ teachers? Pre-k funding is contingent upon having a licensed teacher present during all ten hours of pre-k attendance. It is already very difficult to find licensed teachers. Will the state relax the licensed teacher requirement?
6. Please can we have access to a “hotline”, where we can get an immediate answer during the re-opening period? Waiting for a response for hours or days is unacceptable during a crisis.
7. There is a concern about the overuse of bleach, as it is an asthmagen. There are safer options than bleach that will kill the covid virus. Using a hospital grade peroxide based product called Oxivir is safer https://diversey.com/en/solutions/infection-prevention/outbreak-prevention/sars-cov-2-coronavirus-and-covid-19-disease Please can this be included in the health guidelines?
8. Enrollment. How can we decide who can return under the new limited numbers scheme that most of us will be required to adopt? Are there thoughts around who gets priority? What is fair or equitable?
9. Financial coverage, Stabilization, Unemployment. How can we continue to support staff that cannot work on site? How do we differentiate pay between employees at home and those at work? How can we support staff that do not feel comfortable, or are unable to return due to health concerns/pregnancy/age restrictions? We require Stabilization to continue in response to lower ratios, closure for illness and/or lack of staff.
Sue White, Quarry Hill
Linda January, Otter Creek Care Center
Donna Bailey, Addison County Parent Child Center
Jenne Morton, Bridge School
Amethyst Peaslee, College St Children’s Center
Katie McMurray, Aurora School
Suzanne Young, Wrens Nest Forest Preschool
Dave Mandel, Mary Johnson Children’s Center
Jennifer Cyr, Addison Family Home Providers
DeeDee Fleming Sunshine
Jenna Lossman, Heather Amell, Carolyn Fogg, Deep View Childcare
Becca Kerr, Ark Child Care
Susan Pare, Starkboro Co-operative Preschool
Sarah Rougier, Bristol Family Center
Kerry Malloy, Lincoln Cooperative Preschool