BUSINESS & ECONOMY

As economy reopens, many parents face tough childcare choices

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

As a social worker, Kristin Tatulli’s been working from home since mid-March. But her office is set to reopen June 30 and she needs to find child care for her two girls.

“Currently our options are daycare,” she said. “However, there are safety concerns with that. I just don’t know how you keep a 5 and a 3 year old safe at a child care center. The other thing is that even when my children were going to daycare, or potentially going to summer camp this summer, it wasn’t going to be full time.”

Going full time will come at a cost. They use to depend on their parents, but now they’re nervous.

“Our parents are older and we need to make sure that we protect them, especially if my husband and I are returning to work and our kids are going to be in daycare some of the days, we don’t know what we could potentially be exposed to. So there’s the financial concern because that is an option we hadn’t planned for,” Tatulli said.

As the state begins to reopen, families like the Tatullis are grappling with these kinds of difficult choices. Child care facilities are also struggling with how to keep kids safe while staying on budget.

“You also have to hire additional staff because you want to make sure that you’re aggressively cleaning and disinfecting and sanitizing your space. And those things are going to have a huge impact on the bottom line,” said Winifred Smith-Jenkins, senior director for Zadie’s Childcare Centers.

Smith-Jenkins said schedules will have to be different, too. The state requires the same teacher be with a student all day, meaning facilities can only offer an eight hour day, rather than the usual 12. That can create hardships for parents who might likely need to pay less for the service.

“That’s another thing that providers are struggling with; this is not a business that has wide margins,” Cecelia Zalkind said. “They also need access to supplies — cleaning supplies is top of the list, protective gear for their staff — and also health equipment, things like thermometers, and they’re expensive. There’s a little price gauging going on.”

But even if all those requirements are met, keeping kids and staff safe remains a challenge.

“I don’t think you can really expect children under the age of five to social distance, right? So I think the best way to keep them safe is to assume that that classroom is a family,” Smith-Jenkins said. “So that you keep that group together, they move together throughout the center. So, heaven forbid someone gets sick, at least you’ve isolated it to that particular classroom, as opposed to allowing it to spread throughout a whole center.”

“Lots of questions will have to be answered in terms how their child will be cared for, how large is the group, how many staff members, who will wear protective gear. How will the child’s health and safety be protected? And parents are going to face a tough choice,” Zalkind said.

And with new reports of severe illness in children from COVID, Tatulli says the stakes just got even higher.