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The Psychological and Social Impact of COVID-19: The Childcare Crisis

day_care_shutterstock_1240454104By Deirdre Imus, 10-20-2020
This is the fourth blog in my series on the psychological and social impact of the pandemic on children’s health. The 
first introduced the topic, the second looked at risks and lessons families of children with special needs might have for the rest of us, and the third reviewed the situation facing infants and young children. This edition examines the childcare crisis and ways to cope.

The chaos surrounding the “if, when and how” of school openings this fall has left many working parents in limbo, scrambling for childcare. To make matters worse, about 60 percent of childcare providers were forced to close during the pandemic (1), and many are not coming back. (2)

Adding to the confusion, some high schools and elementary schools now offer online instruction, others operate on split sessions or offer hybrid schedules with both live and online instructions. Families with children in more than one school must deal with multiple schedules. But COVID-19 has done more than throw a wrench into work-school schedules -- it has fueled a childcare crisis, and some wonder if it can even be fixed. (3)

Of course, more than ever families depend on two incomes to keep up with expenses. The financial strain of the pandemic on single parents is even higher and can put private childcare options out of reach.  Among the unemployed, many exhausted employer and government benefits, are seeing their financial resources dwindle. That in turn further limits childcare options.

Working at home helped some parents over the summer, and some will continue to work at home. Yet after a long summer, most are now anxious to have their children back in school to regain some sense of normalcy for their kids and some sanity for themselves. Many service workers who were furloughed do not have a choice; they must now be back at work.

The question is how to find responsible, quality childcare amid a patchwork of schedules, especially for children under age 14 and those not able to care for themselves. The need may be all-day or just after school, or both.

Most states are using the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to improve access to childcare during COVID-19. (4)  New Jersey, for example, announced a $250 million program in August to: a.) Provide state subsidies for kids 5 to 13 years old through the end of the school year, b.) Create a $150 million assistance program for families who aren’t eligible for the subsidy but have an annual income below $75,000, c.) Boost payments to childcare centers up to $75 per child per month, and d.) Offer grants to childcare centers to help them cover COVID-related costs, like cleaning and personal protective equipment. (5)

child_in_day_care_shutterstock_1247570635

Finding childcare services in your community usually starts with asking around – at schools, with other parents, with place of worship, and at your town hall. We do not claim to have all the answers, but here are a few approaches to help you cope. Some can be combined or used at different times, and as circumstances change.

Flexible Scheduling
Speak to your employer about your circumstances and request flexible scheduling, at least for a time until you can make other arrangements.

Family and Friend Caregivers
A grandparent or other family member is usually the first line of defense in times of trouble. However, in this time of COVID-19, older caregivers may be naturally reluctant to help and those with underlying health conditions like asthma face even greater risks.  

Teachers
Teachers, including those with primary and secondary experience and special education teachers who are not working full time, may be available to help. This would encompass those who are at home with their own children, those who have been laid off, and those who are retired and in good health.

Pods
Some parents are forming “pods” with other like-minded parents to share childcare responsibilities on a rolling basis. This not only helps with scheduling, but can also minimize exposure risks. Ideally, the pod includes someone with professional experience who can plan activities, and not just provide childcare.

Young Mothers / Non-working Parents
Those who are not working or actively seeking work may be open to taking in other children, particularly those neighbors with similar-aged children.

High School Students
Responsible high school students may be an option for after-school care.  As with other caregivers in the home, always review your cleaning protocols before they start.

Nannies
Live-in nannies can cost more than what many with lower wages earn. However, some agencies laid off experienced nannies so nannies may now be available directly and/or on a part-time basis. Note:  For any direct arrangements, always check references – and check with an accountant about payroll withholding and tax requirements.   

 

References

  1.  Cindy Axne and Katherine Clark, “America Needs to Start Treating Childcare as What It Is: Vital Infrastructure,” Time, September 14, 2020. https://time.com/5888887/childcare-crisis-coronavirus/
  2. “How COVID is Impacting Childcare Providers,” ZerotoThree.org. Accessed September 26, 2020.
    https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/3398-how-covid-19-is-impacting-child-care-providers
  3. “Covid-19 proves childcare in the US is broken – can it be fixed?” The Guardian,July 27,2020.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/27/childcare-us-coronavirus-pandemic-recession-solution
  4.  Elizabeth Bedrick and Sarah Daily, “States Are Using the CARES Act to Improve Child Care Access during COVID-19,” ChildTrends, July 7, 2020.  https://www.childtrends.org/publications/states-are-using-the-cares-act-to-improve-child-care-access-during-covid-19
  5. CBSN New York, “Gov. Murphy Announces COVID Child Care Assistance Program for Working Parents,” August 28, 2020. https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/08/28/gov-murphy-announces-covid-child-care-assistance-program-for-working-parents/

Resources

Guidance Related to Childcare During COVID-19 (American Academy of Pediatrics) https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/guidance-related-to-childcare-during-covid-19/

Technical Assistance for Childcare Providers (ChildCare Aware)
https://www.childcareaware.org/emergency-child-care-technical-assistance-center/ta-for-child-care-providers/

Fact Sheet: Covid-19 and State Childcare Assistance programs (Center for Law and Social Policy)
https://www.clasp.org/publications/fact-sheet/covid-19-and-state-child-care-assistance-programs-immediate-considerations

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