Courtesy of Zoom
Monette Ferguson, executive director of ABCD, Inc, in Bridgeport (Courtesy of Zoom)

Connecticut is reopening and parents are heading back to work, but finding child care has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents worry whether it’s safe to bring their child to a group setting. At the same time, child care providers have been hit hard by the pandemic and at least one study shows that many may not be able to keep their doors open — even though they never were ordered to close.

A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) before the COVID-19 pandemic, found that just 11% of providers could survive a closure of an indeterminate length of time without government support — and only 27% could survive a month-long closure.

If those numbers are accurate, it means Connecticut could lose an estimated 46,000 licensed child care slots.

Providers want to continue operating, but the ongoing threat of infection means they will have to do it at a reduced capacity. How they make up the difference will matter.

“Our teachers want to come back to work,” Dr. Monette Ferguson, executive director of ABCD, Inc. in Bridgeport, said. “But what they’re telling us is they want to be safe and they want to know that when they come back to work that the environment will be the same loving and nurturing environment that they were used to.”

She said it’s up to providers to create the safest environment they can so they can go back to caring for the children. That will mean access to personal protective equipment and smaller class sizes.

At the moment, the Centers for Disease Control is recommending 10 children per class.

Ferguson said it’s undeniable now that child care is one of the most important parts of the economy.

She said they want to ensure their client families are safe and their staff is safe. She said transparency is really important when it comes to assuring parents that things are safe.

Courtesy of Zoom
Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye (Courtesy of Zoom)

At the moment, child care workers are not members of the “high-priority” workers the state is looking to test. 

Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said last week that child care centers do report infections to the department and ‘it’s a very, very small number of cases that we have seen.”

She said in the first phase of high-priority testing the “daycare workers are not specifically called out, but as we continue our reopening strategy and we continue to add to our testing capacity, all types of frontline workers will begin to develop guidance and recommendations for.”

If a child care worker is suspected of having COVID-19, they are able to get priority testing, but testing is not being done on a regular basis.

Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye said there have been few cases in early child care, and all cases are reported to DPH.

Bye said at least 1,552 child care providers have remained open through the pandemic, following the hand-washing, temperature-taking, and cleaning protocols provided by the state.

“We agree that it’s important that people have confidence,” Bye said. It’s been particularly challenging for a group of businesses that was already struggling before the pandemic. Bye pointed out that the profit margins are “razor thin. … We’re saying to the programs that were barely making it, ‘You can take half as many kids, and by the way, 70 percent of parents are nervous about sending their kids back to group settings.’”

She said it could take six to 12 months for parents to feel comfortable returning, but many programs won’t be able to last that long without funding and would likely close.

“The usual demand is down and we cut their supply in half,” Bye said. “There’s no way they can make it.”

The state is offering some child care programs funding through June 30.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro plans to pitch $50 billion in funding for child care centers to help make sure they stay afloat until kids can return. She said she’s going to propose the funding Wednesday as part of an emergency appropriations bill.

Kristy DeConti, owner of Natural Learning Community Children’s School in Simsbury, isn’t optimistic, the funding will come through.

“As a woman-run business, the people in government don’t understand why child care is essential,” DeConti said.

DeConti said she closed her school in March and the families who have agreed to stay with her as long as she doesn’t open too soon have been paying 25% of their tuition to help her pay the rent.

She said her employees are collecting unemployment and when she does decide to reopen, the new safety restrictions mean she will have to close her infant room and lose three preschool slots.

Kristi Sue, a parent of a preschooler, said she did everything she could to protect her child including withdrawing him a few days early from school and he still ended up getting the virus.

She said she’s nervous about sending her child back to preschool because he’s still having residual effects from the virus, like difficulty breathing. Also it’s impossible, Sue said, for children to social distance in a classroom.

She said she may feel comfortable sending him to kindergarten in the fall, but it will depend on the measures the school system takes.