Danaye Scott reads to her class at the On Purpose Academy and Mentoring Center in Dayton. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

Coronavirus: Daycare centers to open under strict guidelines

Daycare centers in the Miami Valley will be allowed to operate for the first time in three months starting this weekend as Gov. Mike DeWine continues to reopen Ohio in phases amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

>> What you need to know about Ohio’s new daycare guidelines

But daycare providers are grappling with the strict guidelines — intended to slow the coronavirus — while also trying to keep their businesses viable. Under the new rules they’ll be required to sanitize their facilities more often than they already do and class sizes will be significantly reduced. The smaller classes are expected take a huge chunk out of the providers’ annual revenue — up to 80% — for the foreseeable future.

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With summer arriving, a shortage in providers is also expected to leave many working parents scrambling for child care, and the problem could get worse later in the year if more people return to work. That concerns area caregivers more than the revenue losses.

“If those kids are not going to be in a childcare setting, where will they be served?” asked Dale Brunner, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Dayton. “The issue that all of us as childcare providers across the city and across the state look at is that it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we’re only going to accept this kid over this kid.’ You know, it’s very difficult. It’s a tough situation that we’re all in right now. And you especially feel bad for the parents who need to get back to work that we just can’t serve. That’s the hardest part.”

The governor’s office has not issued plans to spur additional daycare providers. The DeWine administration expects demand for child care will remain low this year because of the sagging economy brought on by the pandemic, said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney. Many people who are employed will also continue working from home, so they may not send their children to daycare, Tierney said.

‘Back into a routine’

Dayton resident Tiffany Kuck has been working from home since the lockdown, and like some area residents she plans to resume taking her child to daycare starting Monday morning. The healthcare professional, who’s also a consultant, has had to juggle her workload while also caring for her 11-month-old daughter Madelyn the past three months. Kuck said she is excited and relieved that daycare centers are reopening.

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“I would say it’s a good thing for us to be able to get back into a routine and her to be able to go back and see other kids to socialize with her class,” said Kuck, whose child will be returning to the YMCA of Greater Dayton.

Not having access to child care the past three months has been challenging, she said. But the time she’s spent with Madelyn has been a blessing to watch her grow. In that time her baby has learned how to crawl, stand up and now is almost walking.

Returning to the old routines after a three-month hiatus may present some challenges as well, said Mary Beth DeWitt, a psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Children will need to be prepared for what to expect and things that might be different this time around - including the extra steps the daycare staff will take to keep the facility clean and children safe, she said. Families should plan ahead and talk about what the day will look like for their child.

“This will be easier for families who have already been within that daycare setting (prior to the pandemic), but they may remind their kids about their teacher and some of their playmates that might be there again, and some of their favorite activities that they will do,” said DeWitt, who also is a Wright State University professor.

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In addition, parents may want to drive by the daycare just to remind their child and prompt some questions or discussions that may come up, and go over the routine with them, she said. Some parents may want their children to feel in control of some things, so allowing them to pick out their outfits for their first day back may be helpful as well. In addition, kids should be allowed to help get their backpack together to put some of their favorite items in them so that they feel a little bit more in control, DeWitt said.

“A lot of times with novelty and change, we just feel uncertain and out of control, and so to exert some control helps kids feel a little bit more engaged,” she said.

Additional tips can be found on the Dayton Children’s Hospital’s website at childrensdayton.org.

New guidelines

According to the new state guidelines, there must be one staff member per four infants or one staffer per six toddlers with a maximum of six children per room at all times. Preschoolers and school-age children must have one child care staff member per nine with a maximum nine children per classroom. Staffers must also undergo daily coronavirus screenings, and they’re required to stay home if they have symptoms.

In addition, child care providers must ensure that children’s hands are washed as soon as they arrived at the centers, at various times throughout the day and when their parents pick them up at the end of the day. There is also a notification protocol in the event a staffer or child tests positive for the COVID-19. A complete list of the rules can be found on the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services website.

Related: Special childcare centers will keep parents in essential jobs working

Some childcare providers such the YMCA of Greater Dayton and Kim Jarvis, owner of On Purpose Academy and Mentoring Center in Dayton, have been operating under most of these guidelines the past three months. They were granted special licenses to care for children of parents who work in essential professions — such as health staff and first responders. Nearly 1,200 centers across the state and the Dayton area were granted the Temporary Pandemic Child Care licenses.

Lost revenue

Although she understands that the strict guidelines are necessary to keep children safe and contain the COVID-19, Jarvis is concerned about the viability of her business, which is a medium-size center. She has a capacity of 140 children, and all of her slots were filled prior to the pandemic.

Under the new state guidelines, she will have to turn away more than half of those children when she opens this week. That translates to a revenue loss of 80%, or $9,000 per week for families who pay out of pocket, Jarvis said.

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The YMCA of Greater Dayton typically serves about 1,600 children at locations throughout the region during the school year and about 1,100 in the summer. But starting tomorrow, they will take in about 30% of those children, Brunner said. As a result, the YMCA will lose about 70% of its childcare revenue, which accounts for 20% of the organization’s overall operating budget.

Revenue aside, hundreds of young people who rely on the YMCA for a variety of services will have to be turned away, and that’s agonizing for an organization whose mission it is to serve people in the community. Some children rely on the organization for tutoring during the summer, meals and the like. The leadership is working with local school districts to figure out how they can partner and help some children during the summer, Brunner said.

“But really, that’s the issues that we’re facing, and it is very difficult for the fact that we’re serving a large number of kids that need our assistance, and unfortunately we’re not going to be able to do that,” he said.

Brunner and Jarvis said families who were enrolled in their centers prior to the pandemic will get priority enrollment. All others will be placed on a waiting list.

Offsetting costs

The new child care protocol will require that daycare centers invest in classroom dividers, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, temporary sinks, thermometers and other items to help them meet the guidelines. Given the loss in revenue providers will experience because of reduced class sizes, the state set aside a $60 million grant to help providers offset some of the cost of the new equipment. The monthly payments will range from $100 to $2,500, depending on the type of provider, their rating and other criteria, according to a Department of Jobs and Family Services press release.

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The grant will be helpful, and Jarvis said she plans to apply for it. But adjusting to all the new rules and losing a huge chunk of her revenue will be challenging, even though she knows the strict guidelines are necessary.

“As providers we understand the necessity for safety and health, and that’s important,” she said. “We want to keep kids safe, but it’s very difficult to operate under these new conditions with everything going on and without having to impacted people’s livelihood. I respect the governor for taking into consideration kids’ health.”

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