KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It came as no surprise to Ben Walnick that he lives in a child care desert.
The Kansas City, Missouri, man put his daughter on waiting lists at day care centers before she was born.
Mara turns 4-months-old next week and still hasn’t made it inside a day care.
“Part of the frustration, honestly, is that it doesn’t feel like day cares are being completely open with us,” Walnick said. “A lot of them won’t tell me how many people are in front of me on the wait list. They won’t give me an actual projection.”
According to a new report from Kids Win Missouri, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in roughly 82 percent of the counties in Missouri becoming child care deserts. A desert is a community with more than three children for every licensed child care spot. The same group said roughly 54 percent of counties were child care deserts before the pandemic.
Robin Phillips, the CEO of Child Care Aware of Missouri, says roughly 35 percent of the state’s licensed child care facilities have not reopened after temporarily shutting down due to stay-at-home orders in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Of the 65 percent open, not all are operating at full capacity in order to maintain some social distancing among staff and children.
“Child care is not a poor person’s problem, it is a working person’s problem,” Phillips explained.
Child Care Aware of Missouri, and its partner agency in Kansas both offer free referral services to help parents like Walnick find an open child care spot.
Leadell Ediger, the executive director of Child Care Aware of Kansas, said her organization is splitting about $21 million from the federal CARES Act into grants to help day care owners buy PPE and sanitizer, pay rent, hire employees and generally get back to business.
Missouri received more than $60 million for its day care services through the CARES Act.
Phillips said the problem is most day care center operators aren’t business professionals accustomed to applying for grants and find the process intimidating. Plus, she and Kids Win Missouri are advocating for more federal funding for day cares, arguing day care is necessary to get the economy back on track.
Eventually, the CARES Act money will make its way to centers who need it. In the meantime, Walnick has an in-person nanny. He said the service costs about twice as much as day care.
A working parent herself, Dr. Toni Zink feels Wlanick’s pain.
The family physician at Samuel U Rodgers Health Centers is on the front lines of the fight with COVID-19. That exposure made her nervous about sending her children to summer camp while she worked at the center.
So, she packed up her 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son and drove them to Houston to spend June and July with her parents.
“I was concerned the kids would be in an enclosed area with other children without wearing a mask, that there would not be enough staff to monitor kids wearing masks,” Zink admitted. “I decided it would be easier to have them with family so we could control the environment more.”
She misses her children, even though she plans to visit Houston every two weeks. She knows children are resilient.
“We’ve all had to make decisions that we never thought we would have to make,” Zink said.
If you’ve found an opening at a day care, here is a list of considerations Zink, Phillips and Ediger suggest parents go over before signing up:
- Ask what protocols the daycare has in place for hand washing or hand sanitizing.
- Ask how the day care will adhere to social distancing rules.
- Ask when kids have to wear masks.
- Ask what the center will do if a child shows symptoms of COVID-19.
- Ask to tour the facility.
- Ask to observe before signing up.
- If you hire a nanny, have no fear asking them whether they visit crowded places and wear a mask when they’re not at your house.
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