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Challenges child care and early learning workers face during the pandemic

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The coronavirus, COVID-19, has created a time in our history for taking serious safety precautions and guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We must follow its guidelines to protect our health and others. Child care workers, deemed essential workers, risk their safety each day to care for children. Because our nation is faced with an undetermined amount of time it will be in this pandemic, parents who work (most who are also essential workers) have found it necessary to rely on the safety of the child care facilities they entrust with their children. As a child-outcome consultant, I was compelled to reach out to child care providers and workers to ask these questions. What are the challenges child care and early learning workers face? And are there resources available to support them?

When presented with the question — what is the biggest challenge you are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic? — one provider shared:

“In the past, the nation believed that children were unlikely to get COVID. Now we know that is not true. It is hard to detect children’s cold symptoms, allergy symptoms and asthmatic systems from COVID, which makes us all fearful, especially when you don’t know if families are practicing CDC safety rules.”

Other providers experienced a reduction in retaining teachers due to the impact of COVID-19. One provider stated, “The first wave was teachers, identified as high risk, opted out of work due to their health or family members’ health needs. Then, teachers who were needed at home to support their school-age children” [opted out of work].

Many child care and early learning workers shared their biggest challenges are decreased enrollment and attendance and financial difficulties. Other factors may play a role in these declines, however, most feel that fear caused by COVID-19 has parents afraid to bring their children to their facilities.

Fortunately, providers do not have to face financial challenges of the pandemic alone. There are resources and tools available to support them. In her “The State of Early Learning” presentation from Jan. 26, available on YouTube, Maureen Weber, president and CEO of Early Learning Indiana, provided valuable Indiana data and resources. For instance, the Early Learning Indiana Come Back Stronger fund, supported by Lilly Endowment Inc., invites providers to complete applications for round two of funding. Weber reported that the first round of funding consisted of $13 million that was spent supporting 1,000 providers in 81 Indiana counties. Over 60% of awardees met the criteria for serving many vulnerable children.

The destabilization of programs due to fears and health concerns regarding the pandemic’s impact on workers, families and children has not gone unnoticed. Other organizations that support the importance of early learning have addressed these fears. One such organization doing so is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It has assembled online health and educational organizations’ information, “Coping with COVID-19,” as a valuable resource for providers to help reduce challenges and stabilize programs that support child care and early learning.

Mattie L. Jones, Ph.D., is associate provost and Dean of Education at Martin University, Indiana Child Advocate educational liaison and child outcomes consultant. Contact her at mattielee-jones@att.net.

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