Back when COVID-19 made itself known as a pandemic and the world began suddenly shutting down, parents found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to work and parent at the same time.
It was a nanosecond before they started longing for their old child care arrangements.
“I’m drowning,” wrote one working mother on Slate, representing the voices of many. “I can’t do my job and take care of my baby.” Parents everywhere nodded in solidarity.
But now that the economy in many places has started down the path toward reopening, there are new questions. Make no mistake, parents – working mothers and fathers -- are still eager for the help they used to have. “There’s no way,” wrote one – a working father -- “to send people back to work without providing safe, affordable child care.”
Yet they’re understandably wondering about child care in the era of a pandemic. What will it look like? Perhaps more importantly, what will it feel like? Will it feel safe? “Should you send your kid?” asked one CNN writer outright.
The Starting Point – Child Care for Healthcare Workers
It should be comforting to know that the answers to those questions have been in formulation since long before reopening.
From the start, child care – the potential lack of it -- was recognized for its long-term economic implications, with one writer even wondering whether a shortage would be the thing preventing America’s reopening. “Getting people back to work,” wrote Carrie Lukas in the Washington Post, “requires sufficient child care.”
But in the acute, initial response period, child care had more immediate ramifications – it threatened to keep doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from their patients. Many of these providers were from two-responder families who couldn’t work without it. All were unequivocal about needing child care and trusting it could be delivered safely.
That launched a concerted effort between organizations around the country that would inform child care going forward. Quickly, we were fielding phone calls from parents, as well as Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, asking how we could care for responders’ children. Next came contact with our partner consultant, pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Kristin Moffitt of Boston Children’s Hospital, and protocols based both on what the medical community knew about COVID, and guidelines from the CDC and local and state authorities.
A Safe Place for Kids to be Kids
The target audience – parents working in healthcare -- understood the science behind the evolving protocols: masks for all adults, reduced class sizes, health screens upon arrival, disinfecting and handwashing rules (you can watch a video and read about our full safety protocols, here). One working mother, an infection preventionist charged with thwarting the spread of the coronavirus at her Florida hospital, said her center’s updates were “spot on” -- based on CDC guidelines, responsive to experts in the field – just like those of her hospital. “It was nice to know they were on top of it so I didn’t have to be – and I didn’t have to worry.”
Other parents were equally confident, coming and going from the center daily, comforted not just by the safety practices and enhanced policies, but by the very ordinariness of seeing their children in a center doing what they do – being with friends; engaging with teachers; just being kids.
“They’re not only safe,” one nurse told us about her children, “but happy and learning.”
This is the same child care that will be brought to parents everywhere as reopening unfurls – designed by specialists, informed by science, entrusted by people on the medical frontlines who have already been bringing their children to centers every day.
“I’m not worried about her now, and I’ve never been worried about her,” said a Chicago pediatric infectious disease specialist. “That center has become family to us.”
What will child care look and feel like in the era of the pandemic? Those parents can tell you.