Unionville Times: LTE: Childcare Centers Will Need Help to Reopen Safely
May 14, 2020

To the editor:
I am the Area Manager of Warwick Child Care Center, Inc. in Pottstown, PA. I have been working in the field since 1992. I started in the field to gain experience with working with children. I fell in love with the field and understood how the first five years are the most important to build a foundation for children and their learning. Warwick Child Care Center, Inc, has been serving the community children for over 30 years and is very dedicated to helping children learn the skills that are needed to succeed in school.

At the time of the state wide closure we cared for over 550 children throughout Chester County and employed over 110 teachers. During the Covid-19 health crisis, we had to close our centers abruptly. We did not collect tuition from our private pay families or Child Care Works co-payments after the first week of closure. This meant we had to furlough about 95% of teachers. The extensive shut down has caused many financial concerns not limited to the upkeep on 5 buildings and supporting our families in various ways.

We are anxiously looking forward to reopening the centers when the county moves to the Yellow phase, however, there are many barriers to this process.

As we begin to prepare for reopening, we have had to consider all the changes needed to provide a safe environment free from COVID-19 and how to make these things happen while still staying true to the philosophy of a play-based early learning program where parents are our partners.

Obtaining the proper cleaning supplies and other suggested materials by the CDC has been a challenge, both in being able to obtain the items and the cost of these extra materials. At this time we believe we have most of what we need to reopen but our supply will only last a couple of weeks. Many, many items are backordered so there is concern as to being able to open and stay open without the access and funds for the supplies.

Our next biggest hurdle is staffing. The Early Childhood Education field was already facing an extreme staffing shortage. Now, we will need to not only have qualified employees to work with the children but we will also need to have additional teachers to assist with the added social distancing expectations, new drop off and pick up procedures, and enhanced disinfecting and sanitizing procedures. We also have employees who may not be able to return due to underlying health issues or simply concern for their families health and well being.

This puts us in a precarious position, to not only ensure that we maintain the Department of Human Services child to teacher ratios but also the CDC’s recommendations of smaller group sizes. All without having fully enrolled buildings. We know parents who are not yet returning to work or who are unsure of group care during this pandemic may not return to care right away and we want to make sure they know that we will welcome their children back as soon as they are ready. Financially the centers are going to be operating at a deficit much larger than we normally see.

We are ready to help over 400 families return to work and to help boost the economy however we need assistance to do this. One in three child care centers will not survive this closure and be able to reopen. Child care in PA and across this country is integral for recovery after COVID-19 but everyone of us need help to do it and do it well! We need the state and federal government to assist us, place value in child care, and help us find ways to pay the teachers what they are truly worth, find supplies we need, and financial assistance to allow us to open with lower enrollment (as is suggested) right now.

We have been working hard during the closure to ensure that we will be able to open safely and still provide the high quality that we have always provided for our community. However, this is not easy or simple and we are still very uncertain what the future holds for us during and after this pandemic. Our number one priority has always been to keep the children, families, and teachers safe and that is even more in the forefront during these times. We are dedicated to serving our community, but really need support from the state and federal government to do this. Without a safe, high quality Early Learning Center for children to attend, there will be no true economic recovery. Parents need to feel that their children are safe and child care centers need to feel that they are being supported in providing such a place for families during this time.

Tana Rinehart-Ullman

Read the Letter to the Editor here.