Local child care centers adapt to pandemic
ALPENA — Area child care providers who stayed open during coronavirus-related closures are learning to adapt and make the best out of a far-from-normal situation.
While many licensed daycare centers shut down when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in mid-March ordered all but the most essential businesses to close, several businesses closed, too, meaning many parents were laid off and fewer needed daycare.
Some day centers, such as TOTally Kids Daycare in Alpena, applied to the state to be an emergency child care center to assist families who needed help watching their kids during the pandemic.
Stacey Reynold, owner of TOTally Kids, said the daycare has about 65 kids registered, but not all are present at the same time. Right now, between 25 to 35 kids come in every day.
“We’re doing our part for the community and what we can,” Reynold said. “We made the choice to stay open for our families who we already had … and we had a few people come in that were new because they had their centers closed, and we were happy to take them in and provide care for those children.”
As of Thursday, 124 Northeast Michiganders have tested positive for the virus since mid-March: 94 Alpena County residents, 14 Alcona County residents, 11 Presque Isle County residents, and five Montmorency County residents. Eighty-two of those residents have recovered.
Ten area residents have died while infected with the virus.
The Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, which runs Pied Piper School, started prepping in mid-March to use the building as an emergency child care facility for essential community workers. The ESD set up additional emergency care sites at Alcona Elementary School and Atlanta Community Schools, but Alcona Elementary was the only site that took in kids.
ESD Superintendent Scott Reynolds said that, although the program had more than 100 initial referrals in March, it lasted for about three weeks because only a few children actually showed up for care.
“We’re thankful that there wasn’t a greater need,” Reynolds said.
He said that, although the ESD no longer provides direct emergency child care, it continues to refer parents to existing day care providers.
Reynold said TOTally Kids’ enrollment is down, as some of the center’s kids aren’t back yet because their parents aren’t working because of the pandemic. Most of the parents, though, are considered essential workers who work at the hospital, grocery store, and doctor’s offices.
Reynold said her staff still calls families who aren’t dropping their kids off to keep in touch with them. TOTally Kids is normally open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but, as an emergency provider, they can stay open till midnight. Reynold said they haven’t had any parent in need of midnight hours, yet, but the option is available.
Kelli Miller is a child care provider in Lewiston licensed to care for up to 12 kids at a time, with a helper. Miller said she had to make changes to her daycare, such as the meals she would offer kids, because of her inability to get to the store and having to order food online. She starts receiving kids around 5:30 a.m. and closes by 6 p.m.
“It’s been a bigger adjustment,” Miller said. “We’ve had to implement new rules, check our temperatures, wash our hands more often throughout the day like when the kids first get here, or try to keep them farther apart when they eat. It’s definitely not easy when they’re toddlers.”
CHILD CARE RESOURCES
Staff from daycare centers like TOTally Kids and Miller’s at-home daycare both said they have had the resources they need during the pandemic, but have run low on cleaning products like hand sanitizer. It can also be hard to come by such products, so Miller tries to buy her supplies in bulk.
“Cleaning supplies were kind of harsh to find, so when I do find things like Clorox wipes and Lysol spray, I’ll buy the max that they allow us to buy, “ Miller said.
Hand sanitizer is also readily available for people in all the rooms and at the front door at TOTally Kids Daycare. Kids are separated into several rooms depending on age group. Parents can’t walk throughout the building.
On April 29, Whitmer announced a $130 million investment to make child care more affordable and accessible for Michigan families during the pandemic.
The state created a Child Care Relief fund to provide grants to child care providers. The fund consists of $100 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, and $30 million from the state’s Child Care Fund.
Licensed child care centers, family group homes, tribal child care providers, provisional disaster relief child care centers, and others are eligible for grants between $1,500 and $3,000.
Nearly half of child care programs expected they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without support, according to a March survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Reynold, at TOTally Kids, said her daycare is in the process of getting a grant through the state that would help the center continue to provide services. This month, Miller said she also applied for a grant. Grants could help with things like paying staff.
As long as resources are available, Reynold said, she’ll continue to take in kids.
“We need those kids to have that stability, and I feel like that stability was interrupted when those places closed their services,” Reynold said.
News Staff Writer Julie Riddle contributed to this report. Meakalia Previch-Liu can be reached at 989-358-5680 or email@example.com.