The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida is helping families connect with child-care facilities in their local area with a Child Care Resource and Referral Hotline.
The ELC of North Florida represents the counties of St. Johns, Putnam, Clay, Nassau, Baker and Bradford. Duval County has its own ELC.
As child care facilities are limited in the number of kids they can have during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brittney Spangler with Episcopal Children’s Services, a partner of ELC that runs the hotline, said it makes the process easier.
“My staff tries to make sure that we have the most up to date information throughout all of our service area counties, as well as we are tracking all of the providers that are currently open, and the slots that they have available for the different child care ages,” Spangler said.
Spangler said Episcopal’s list of child care facilities is updated daily, so parents can get the latest information on which would be best for their children.
To mitigate the concern of overflowing with too many people in one facility, Teresa Matheny with Episcopal Children’s Services said some voluntary pre-kindergarten facilities are being suspended while keeping the building open for child care.
The representatives said they want to make sure essential workers are able to find a place to bring their kids during the crisis.
“We can tell them ‘these are ones that actually have some openings right now,’” Matheny said. “They don't need to worry that they're going to lose their job at their essential service. They can find care.”
Some facilities in these counties have had to shut their doors temporarily due to the financial burden, and this can put essential workers in a tough position to find somewhere else to bring their kids.
If finances are an issue, Matheny says the parent can call to inquire if they qualify for the subsidized child care program.
“We find them eligible based on the amount of money they make and their family size and that kind of thing,” Matheny said. “If they are eligible, then we will pay our rate to the child care provider themselves.”
Parents are also assigned a fee, and another charge based on what the provider is charging.
With many parents being able to stay home due to COVID-19 restrictions, some of the money these facilities would get is now harder to come by.
The ELC is paying parent fees for kids enrolled in the School Readiness Program, as those are waived by the state government right now and less kids are going to the child care facilities.
“They're not having money taken away because the child did not attend, or because their parents were afraid for them to come or didn't need the care,” Matheny said.
But overall, the ELC representatives said there might be some facilities that won’t be able to reopen when the pandemic is over.
“It's going to be like any other industry,” said Dawn Bell, CEO of the ELC. “The one upside to the childcare centers - as you know, the governor has been stating child care facilities are considered, you know, essential services. So they’re not in a great position, but they are in a better position than perhaps other businesses.”
To remain open, the child care facilities must follow several CDC guidelines, including:
- Requiring pickup and drop-off in the lobby/entry way of the operation, unless it’s determined there is a legitimate need for the parent to enter an operation. For example, meet the parent at the pickup area and escort the child to the parent.
- Prohibiting any person, except the following, from accessing an operation: operation staff; persons with legal authority to enter, including law enforcement officers, Child Care Licensing staff, and Department of Children and Families protective services staff; professionals providing services to children; children enrolled at the operation; and parents or legal guardians who have children enrolled and present at the operation.
- Limiting students and employees to no more than 10 people in a single occupied space, therefore breaking students into groups as necessary, maintaining social distancing best practices for proper hygiene.
- Ensuring students get individual meals and snacks; not family style.
- Any person that is allowed to enter must be screened for fever, cough, respiratory symptoms and he/she should not have traveled outside the country in 14 days or have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person.
“Talking with child care providers, it's been kind of a great experience,” said Spangler. “You hear a lot of them just stepping up and just going above and beyond to understand we're all in the same boat together, and we're going to make it through and do the best we can and try and make everything as clean as possible.”
Parents interested in finding child care services can call (800) 238-3463 ext.7702, or they can email the service at CCRRhotline@ecs4kids.org.
Sky Lebron can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.