Amid pandemic, child care is no child's play
Melinda Schroeder made COVID precautions at her home-run day care fun for her little clients by letting them look at the thermometer after she checked their temperatures.
“At first, the kids thought it was fun,” said Schroeder, owner of Marion-based Melinda’s Home Away from Home. “I let them look at the number when taking their temperature. A little green light lights up. It was fun because it was something new and different. It’s not something new and different anymore. We’re just ready for it to be over.”
Schroeder — who was washing dishes and keeping her dog, Rex, from playing too roughly with toddlers — said there wasn’t much extra time for herself.
“There’s lots of hours in day care,” she said. “Even when kids are gone, you’re still doing laundry, and cleaning up after everything, and all that stuff. It’s not just ‘oh, I don’t have any kids now, so I’m done.’ You have to make sure everything is safe and up to par.”
According to a survey of child care providers by Child Care Aware of Kansas and the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, almost 99 percent of providers do extra cleaning, take temperatures, and emphasize hand washing to slow the spread of COVID. Less than half practice social distancing, make staff or children wear masks, or do regular COVID testing.
Almost half of the providers said mandates or requirements instead of recommendations would help them put in more precautions, with pressure on parents to follow them.
Area child care providers cope with staffing challenges, financial difficulties, emotional burnout, and strained relationships with families and communities.
These reoccurring problems were magnified by the pandemic.
“The recent labor shortage has impacted the child care industry as well,” Child Care Aware of Kansas executive director Kelly Davydov said. “But it’s child care in particular now where chapter programs are having a problem interviewing candidates, let alone maintaining staff.”
Many child care providers in the county, including Sunflower Daycare in Marion, have shut down.
“Child care as an industry has never been particularly rich, especially when you consider the bulk of child care programs are single owner-operator small businesses, operated from perhaps a family home,” Davydov said. “There is some increased cost associated with the pandemic that has added to that burden.”
Schroeder is running at maximum capacity for her license. When school was out and younger students needed watching, she negotiated times with parents.
“You just have to work with everybody’s schedules so you can help out as many people as you can,” she said.
Last modified Oct. 22, 2021