State revises childcare guidelines
Changes mainly help family care providers
FACING A BACKLASH from parents and childcare providers, state early education officials revised their guidelines governing the reopening of day care centers. But while the new guidelines do help many family care providers, they do little to address the major concerns raised by childcare centers.
Tammy Inman, the owner and director of Little Kids in North Falmouth, was the impetus for a petition on Change.org asking the Department of Early Education and Care to revise its guidelines. The petition, started by a parent whose children attend Little Kids, has been signed by 35,000 people. Inman said the changes do not address her core concerns — that the group and room size requirements will force her to cut enrollment nearly in half. “That basically puts me in a position where I have to pick and choose families,” Inman said.
Inman also dislikes social distancing requirements, the lack of personal contact, and provisions encouraging children to wear masks. “I have so many families who don’t want to let their kids back after reading the regulations because that environment is not what we signed up for,” she said.
As more workplaces reopen, the Department of Early Education and Care will allow non-emergency childcare centers to submit reopening plans for review next week. The agency will review plans for completeness and approve “conditional” re-openings, with a thorough review done within 60 days.
The biggest shift in the revised rules relate to family providers, who offer childcare in their homes. Family providers had asked to be treated differently from centers, since they have fewer resources. Many have only a single caregiver or one assistant and operate in a small space.
The new guidance lets family childcares adhere to their former capacity and staff–child ratios, rather than stricter new ones. It lets them operate in the same physical space, even if it is smaller than recommended. It also provides flexibility for procedures regarding health screenings upon entering and isolation of sick children, knowing a provider may be working alone. Since family childcares may not have outdoor play spaces, the guidance allows the children to play in public playgrounds.
Alyssa Kelley, who runs Homegrown Daycare from her home in Plymouth, said she feels like family childcare providers are starting to be heard. But there is still some lack of clarity, and she worries about revisions coming out last-minute, after three months of centers being closed. She is also frustrated that state grants are only available for centers that subsidize low-income children, not private pay programs.
“There are still many changes to make, changes that take time and cost money,” Kelley said of things she’ll have to do comply with the rules for reopening. “Many of us are feeling like we have been dragged through the mud and back and are quite frankly drained.”
Gina Tiberio Hamilton, a family childcare provider in Shrewsbury, said the new standards are “doable” and “definitely an improvement over the initial policies that came out.” But, she said, “It’s just going to be work and it’s going to be money.”
Hamilton estimated that it will cost her $1,500 to reopen, to cover cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and new cubbies. She worries about the impact on children’s emotional health.
“Family child care truly is like a family,” Hamilton said. “Can you imagine telling your children not to hug each other or not to hold hands? Not to sit together and read a book? Not to work together building a block tower or digging a sand castle?”
On physical distancing – where providers say keeping six feet of distance between toddlers will be impossible – the guidelines say providers should “attempt” to maintain distancing and limit contact between groups “whenever possible.” When distancing is impossible, face coverings should be worn.