By Jackalyn Carione
This week, Hawaiʻi’s Department of Human Services (DHS) released new guidelines detailing how child care providers can start serving more children as other businesses begin reopening. The guidelines include detailed cleaning and sanitizing protocols and new rules meant to maintain the safety and health of children, parents, and employees.
Among the guidelines are new physical distancing measures, which will have a great effect on child care providers. Notably, we could see class sizes cut in half since providers will only be able to have up to 9 children in a group. Serving far fewer children will cause additional financial stress for providers and make it harder for them to keep their doors open.
New contracts are available from DHS to help fund cleaning, sanitation and other necessary costs due to the pandemic. These contracts are sourced from additional funding to the Child Care Development Block Grant that was included in the CARES Act; they are useful for immediate assistance for the providers, but do not solve the economic consequences of running a facility with far less income.
HCAN and other advocates are asking the Legislature for more funding and for employers to be flexible with company policies. Child care is essential to the economic recovery, and the new guidelines are a good first step for our keiki's heath. But as HCAN Executive Director Deborah Zysman told the Star-Advertiser, the current funding for child care providers is only offering a temporary lifeline — not a long-term fix.
Recent news articles on reopening guidelines for child care:
Hawaiʻi’s Department of Human Services (DHS) released new guidelines for child care facilities and announced $11.9 million in contract funding to support child care operators. The state’s guidelines are aligned with those released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
DHS Director Pankaj Bhanot told the Star-Advertiser that he realizes social distancing will be hard to maintain with young children. “Depending on their age, 2-year-old, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, they love to hug, kiss and run around, snatch each other’s toys, fight, play — it’s going to be difficult,” he said. Bhanot added that having small classes will help solve this issue.
Community members still have concerns, though. Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network, told the Star-Advertiser that “the new ratios for health and safety … are wise for health and safety [but] the economics are just really terrible for child care providers.” She added that providers “are now going to be serving far fewer kids at maximum, and how will they possibly operate? Because their costs don’t go down.”
Zysman said that in addition to financial stress, child care operators are also worried about how to choose which clients to serve — and who they will have to turn away — due to the reduction in class sizes.
Child care providers have until July 31 to apply for contracts from DHS.
As businesses begin to reopen nationwide, millions of parents will be called back to work — but to do so, they will need child care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines for schools, child care and summer camps to safely re-open.
The guidance outlines three “steps.” Under “Step 1,” child care should be reserved for only essential workers. In “Step 2”, programs can expand to serve all children with enhanced social distancing measures in place. In “Step 3”, providers can begin to relax social distancing measures. Guidelines for all steps include regularly disinfecting, having staff wear cloth face masks, restricting mixing of groups and visitors, limiting the sharing of materials and toys, and using as much outdoor air as possible. Read more of the recommended measures here.
Nationally, child care was already a fragile industry before the coronavirus outbreak, and now, since providers have been shut down for so long, many have not survived. As states reopen, some are allowing child care centers to serve more children, but those providers now have even more costs because of additional rules about sanitation and new limits to the number of children allowed in a room together. Some centers are also faced with low enrollment due to parents who can’t afford child care or are worried about health risks.
A bill was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide $50 billion in funding for child care, and a version in the Senate is expected to be introduced next week. The $50 billion would cover providers’ operating expenses, provide parents with tuition relief, and cover new expenses related to the coronavirus. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut told the New York Times that “we cannot let this pandemic set back the next generation.”
According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, nearly 4.5 million child care slots could be lost due to the pandemic. Some providers are receiving funding through the CARES act, which allocated $3.5 billion to the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, but advocacy groups across the country are calling for much more.
The New York Times reports that this crisis has renewed a push for universal early education programs, as advocates are concerned that the pandemic is widening the gap between rich and poor children. Advocates argue that subsidized early education would help close this gap and improve children's academic, social, and emotional skills while helping the economy.