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Minibury Series

Minibury is posting a series of articles about local ECE providers around the county, and recently, Megan James has written some great articles on some of the special people we have within our early childhood community. See the link here for her stories http://www.minibury.com/

Addison County Reopening and Recovery: How Can we Best Support our Community to Make Sure this Happens Safely?

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.

Financing

• 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

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From the Early Childhood Community, to the Addison County Community and State Partners. An Open Letter of Gratitude

From the Early Childhood Community To the Addison County Community and our State Partners

  

 An Open Letter of Gratitude

These times continue to worry and challenge us all, yet they have also opened the doors to caring in wonderful ways. 

We are grateful for the children and parents of our programs, now graciously staying at home, helping to slow the spread of the virus. Thank you for your flexibility with your time and technology, for being part of our remote community, for sharing fears and ideas, and continuing to be filled with the joy of learning. We cannot wait to be hugging, singing, and exploring with you again in person.

We are grateful to our colleagues who are supporting children of pandemic responders in their programs. What a hard and compassionate balance you have found, and what solace you bring to those families. Thank you.

We are grateful to our staff members, who have adapted quickly and creatively to the demands of remote learning.

We are grateful to our wider Addison County community, who are working in myriad ways to keep us all safe, healthy, and hopeful in these dark times. We give thanks for the mutual aid groups, the health teams, the food deliveries, the support services for families, the on-line access to the arts, and the knowledge that we are in this together. 

We are grateful to our state partners who recognize the critical importance of childcare for the health of children, families, and the economy. Thank you for continuing to pay child care tuition subsidies, for helping private pay families to maintain their enrollment, helping both home and center based programs to survive, and for beginning to build the strong infrastructure of care that will be needed when community members are able to go back to work. We are very proud that Vermont has been the first state nationally to put such comprehensive measures in place. 

We are grateful to our state and local leaders and communication systems, all working tirelessly and diligently to give us as much accurate information and guidance as possible in a changing environment.

Vermont Proud, Vermont Strong. 

We will work with you to assure all children are in safe, stable, and nurturing environments. 

We will continue to be a core part of the local, Addison County response to this pandemic. 

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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? https://buildingbrightfutures.org/child-care-for-essential-workers/

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

A Work in Progress

A morning walk

This is the first of our blogs. We are still in prototype mode, but as we are deep in COVID 19 responsiveness, we realize it is more effective to get things online sooner rather than later. Please excuse our appearance as we are updating and tweaking our site, but we recognize this website as a way to be in touch with our wider community. We welcome you all and look forward to engaging meaningfully and usefully.