Coordinating Child Care During COVID-19

The people of West Michigan are expressing well-deserved gratitude to our essential workers in health care, food supply, the delivery industry, first response, and sanitation services. Added to that list should be child care providers, without whom many of the other essential workers would not be able to report to duty.

“I think it’s important to be able to do what we can do and be open to help families that need it,” said Charlotte Lukasiewicz, who cares for children in her home in Grandville. Normally she takes care of six infants and toddlers every day. Now, only two of those children are there on a part-time basis.

“The social interaction between children is non-existent,” Lukasiewicz explained since the two kids in her care no longer come on the same days.

That isn’t the only change. Child care providers always have strict cleaning procedures, but Lukasiewicz says she is sanitizing everything even more than she normally would. “We are cognizant of every single person we come in contact with and everyone the child’s parents may have come in contact with.”

Recognizing things were changing abruptly for providers, the Kent Child Care Crisis Response Team was formed on March 20. The purpose of this team is to coordinate efforts and align activities that support Kent County child care providers and families who work in essential industries and need child care during this time. The team includes representatives from Camp Fire West Michigan 4C, ELNC, First Steps Kent, Great Start Collaborative, Great Start to Quality, Head Start for Kent County, KConnect, Kent County Shared Services Alliance Project, Kent ISD, and Talent 2025.

The crisis response team got to work immediately to determine which child care centers and in-home providers were staying open and how many kids they could accept. In many cases, providers have welcomed new children who were typically in school all day or whose regular care had closed. The Kent County Shared Services Alliance Project helped secure a bulk order of basic goods – cleaning supplies, paper products, and food staples – to deliver to child care providers who were running low.

Providers not caring for the children of essential workers have closed. Those that are still open typically have far fewer kids than normal. Some parents, who are in the financial position to do so, are voluntarily paying their child care providers to help protect their livelihoods. Many families are not able to do that.

“The loss of income and concern about the future is weighing heavily on the industry now more than ever,” said Kristen Sobolewski, Shared Services Alliance Project Manager at First Steps Kent. “Child care providers are always essential, whether we are in crisis or not. In the past ten years, we’ve already experienced child care providers close their business at a rapid rate due to inequities in the child care system. We are working collaboratively to ensure our community has this essential service now and well into the future.”

There are still unanswered questions about which providers are eligible for unemployment and what other financial assistance may be available for both in-home and center-based child care businesses.

As all that is sorted out, Lukasiewicz wants to express her gratitude to everyone supporting child care workers during this crisis. Her message is one we hear a lot these days: “Stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy.”

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