Childcare centers are quickly reopening locations they shuttered during the pandemic to accommodate families who are heading back to work.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced this week that he will allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire Monday, meaning many parents will be headed back to work.
However, schools will remain closed indefinitely, leaving some parents searching for accommodations ahead of schedule.
Childcare centers in Arizona are quickly reopening locations they shuttered during the pandemic to accommodate families who are abruptly in need of a place for their children to safely be during the day.
Christiane Moore, a district leader for KinderCare, told The Copper Courier the company resumes operations Monday and is reopening the 13 locations it closed in recent months. However, 12 centers have remained open during the pandemic mostly for essential working families.
While childcare centers weren’t forced to close under Ducey’s stay-at-home order, Moore said KinderCare shut down some locations because they saw a drop in demand as more parents stayed home and some families quarantined.
Moore said the centers, which serve infants through kindergarteners, have plenty of spaces available and want to help ease parents’ anxieties about having to suddenly return to work.
“We have a lot of the families … in the closed centers who will be coming back,” Moore said. “So the centers that stayed opened, they continued to see additional enrollment as we went on throughout the pandemic. We’re kind of expecting the same thing to happen.”
Cassidy Campana, vice president of communications and external affairs for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Valley, said her organization kept 10 locations open during the stay-at-home order. The group did have to close some that were located in school or government buildings, and they consolidated others due to decreased demand.
Now the nonprofit, which serves elementary schoolers through teenagers, is working to have 18 to 20 clubs running for the summer and will open others on a rolling basis as staff regain access to school and government buildings.
“We are fielding many, many calls every day … and on social media about when we will open,” Campana said. “So yes, we anticipate very high demand.”
Campana also noted that Boys and Girls Clubs will be offering summer programs with a focus on helping children make up for learning loss as a result of the pandemic. She said the group is working with schools and other organizations to come up with a plan to help better ready the kids for the upcoming academic year.
“We know our families are probably more vulnerable than typical families in Arizona to learning loss,” Campana said. “And so if there’s a way for us to add educational and academic enrichment, that’s really our focus right now.”
Keeping Kids and Workers Safe
Because both KinderCare and Boys and Girls Clubs kept centers open during the pandemic, they’ve already had to figure out how to adapt to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing and hygienic guidelines.
“We as a company are doing everything in our power to keep our children safe [and] keep our teachers feeling healthy and safe,” Moore said.
She added that anyone who enters a KinderCare building has their temperature checked at the door, and anyone with symptoms is asked to stay home.
The centers’ employees wear masks, and in infant rooms, they also wear gloves and smocks.
While KinderCare has kept its normal class sizes, adults have been teaching the kids to space themselves out every other chair and separate their napping cots by at least six feet.
Boys and Girls Clubs have also been spacing children out every other chair, on top of keeping small groups within each room. Campana said the ratio has been one adult to nine or 10 children.
Because of the reduction in group sizes, Campana said the nonprofit didn’t have to lay any employees off. The group is actually working to hire 70 seasonal workers so they can maintain small groups in the clubs that will be reopening.
Along with the social distancing practices, children and employees will also receive temperature checks and be asked to frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizer when leaving or entering a room. Staff will wipe down each room every time a group rotates through it.
Both Moore and Campana stressed that safety is each of their organization’s priority as the economy begins to reopen and their centers begin to operate at fuller capacities.
“Our mission and our goal is to help families feel comfortable during this time,” Moore said.
Managing Children’s Emotions
With school closed and the threat of illness and death constantly on the news, many children have been experiencing anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions during the pandemic.
Campana said Boys and Girls Clubs are partnered with Bayless Health to place behavioral specialists in their centers, a move staff are very glad they made, especially given these new circumstances.
She said the club staff have also been working to put together activities that help the children express their emotions.
For example, Campana said teachers will say to the kids, “Why don’t we write letters to people in nursing homes who might not be able to have visitors? What does that feel like?”
“And then the kids get to talk about, like, ‘Well my grandma’s in a nursing home and I can’t see her,’” Campana said. “OK great, let’s write a letter to her; let’s write a card.”
Moore said KinderCare has also been working to give children reassurance when they hear conversations about the coronavirus at home or on the news.
“We just want to try to make it where it’s educational, but they still feel very safe and secure with their teachers and with the experiences they’re having every day,” she said.
Campana noted that the pandemic has really driven home the point of how many children rely on their centers for their meals, internet, and other basic needs.
She said Boys and Girls Clubs staff feel fortunate to have partnered with local groups to provide families with food. For example, on Thursday, the nonprofit worked with Phoenix restaurant The Duce to send home dinner for 75 families.
“Thankfully, there have been really amazing people who have stepped up, but it has really revealed to us all those gaps – the technology divide … and also the food gaps – food insecurity,” Campana said. “It’s just a huge challenge to us and our families.”
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