Kentucky Daycares Prepare For Challenges Of Reopening Amid Pandemic
With less than a week to go before large childcare facilities in Kentucky are able to reopen, daycare owners and operators are pouring over the exhaustive list of new health and safety guidelines and weighing whether or not reopening is feasible. The facilities able to reopen are quickly making adjustments to policies and procedures, in some cases constructing temporary walls and looking at extended hours with more stringent regulations while operating on a smaller budget.
Jennifer Washburn, owner of iKids Childhood Enrichment Center in Benton, said the landscape for those reopening looks like chasing a crystal ball that’s bouncing down the road while surviving the next phase of Jumanji--trying to create a business model and practice model that promote both mental and physical health and safety for the children and their families.
“The new restrictions and regulations... they aren’t far-fetched or crazy but they do come at a cost and that’s the number of slots available,” Washburn said.
iKids will have 15 fewer slots available when it reopens June 15, because the new regulations require classes no larger than 10 children. Washburn said her current projections indicate a 20% decrease in revenue for June and July, with a 20% increase in staffing costs. And her facility has already endured considerable loss; she reported losing between $23,000-24,000 per month her facility has operated as a limited duration childcare provider (LDC), serving only the families of frontline health providers and first responders.
Washburn said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan is the raft keeping her business afloat, and she’s hoping the childcare providers will be granted forgiveness instead of having to pay those back. She said the funds from the CARES Act and other stipends have helped some, but not enough.
“June 12 is our dead date,” she said. “After that, the money runs out and we have to reopen to serve our families and that means all of our families we serve.”
And these financial concerns are impacting every child care facility across the commonwealth, Washburn said. Some facilities are waiting until August to reopen with the hopes of less stringent restrictions; some facilities aren’t reopening at all; many are discussing rate increases.
“If centers don’t make rate increases now, they’ll start to do it in August and September when they see how June and July numbers went. Budgets are based on numbers [of children] and when they have to lose numbers [of children], they have to make up for it somehow,” she explained. “Some say parents won’t pay [the increased rate] and I can’t catch that ball, I can't do it...And we’re already in a childcare desert in Kentucky. It will be catastrophic if this continues over the next year or two.”
In order for the childcare centers not already facing closure to remain open in the future, Washburn said state officials need to consider funding options.
“I do think the new restrictions are good in the interim and some of them may become permanent and as we move forward supporting early childhood. If we’re restricted long term we’re going to have to have some funding prop up for quality care,” she explained. “In western Kentucky, it’s $19 per day for the child care assistance program. That’s not enough to pay for a couple Starbucks much less to provide high quality care by credentialed teachers. There will be policies that need to be changed to meet the need of our smallest friends and families,”said Washburn.
“I want that to remain at the forefront, she added. “You will have other centers that start to fizzle away over the next couple of years.”
For the families whose children will be able to return to child care centers, procedures will look entirely different. At iKids, for instance, employees will be in the facility from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. but will only accept children from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., allowing two hours per day for deep cleaning and sanitizing measures.
Washburn explained in the past, families were encouraged to come in and walk the hallways with their children because it nurtured the relationships with their teachers. Now, parents will bring their children to the door where employees will conduct a quick wellness check before allowing them to enter the building. They’ll have to immediately remove their shoes and jackets and they won’t be allowed to bring in any materials from home.
The teachers will wear masks at all times, Washburn said, but the Cabinet for Family Health and Services allows the facility to assess each child and decide whether or not that child would benefit from wearing a mask or if it’s more beneficial to practice frequent hand washing instead. She noted some children are too young for mask-wearing according to the current guidelines.
“We’re just doing what we can to mitigate the spread of this invisible monster,” she added.
Other measures in place will help ensure the children are segregated to their group of 10. Washburn said she’s having a temporary hallway constructed in the facility so children won’t pass through other classrooms. She noted “temporary” is an unimaginable timeline right now, so she’s considered something strong enough to endure a lengthy timespan but temporary enough that she can easily return the structure of the facility to normal.
Washburn said social distancing for the children will look much different than social distancing for adults in the grocery store.
“We are social and physical beings...they seek that sensory input and it’s developmentally appropriate and necessary,” she explained. “How we mitigate social distancing is keeping those groups together--not mixing groups with other children. They’ll have the same pod of children and they’ll keep the same teachers.”
Washburn said her long-term concern, shared by other childcare facilities across the commonwealth, is how to serve the children who will return to school in August.
“As school reopens in August there may be other hurdles--staggered entry of grade levels, those parents will need care for their children from 6:30 a.m. until 9 a.m. Where does that child go when we’re mitigating contacts, but if that kid goes from daycare to school we’re doing nothing to mitigate,” she said. “Do we go back to the latch-key children of the 80s?”
Washburn said she hopes the caregivers who operate the centers which typically provide gap care for the hours between when parents are working and children are able to enter the school will have the opportunity to express their concerns and ideas because she said, “it’s going to be messy.”
More information regarding requirements for Kentucky daycares reopening may be found here.