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Child care concerns rise as reopening nears

Area schools are just weeks away from reopening under staggered schedules after a spring and summer filled with concerns of how education could continue during the COVID-19 crisis.

Although schools have devised structured plans that feature children in school only some days of the week and home the others, and in Prince Edward and now Cumberland County Public Schools’ case, in school one week and at home the next, this confusing new back-and-forth schedule means parents are having to figure out how to take care of children that are suddenly home without anyone to watch them.

For a two-working-parents, or a single-parent household, the decision may mean a parent quitting their job to stay home and watch their children.

The situation is predicted to cause a child care crisis statewide, and that may be the case in this area given the limited options available to families.

In early July, Creative Learning Center of Farmville Board President John Hilton referenced the Department of Social Services (DSS) Phase Three guidelines and recommendations for child care providers. He said although the guidelines allow for group sizes of 22, including staff, for children aged 4 to 13, the center’s space does not allow for such large groups.

Hilton added the school does not currently care for school-age children, so the odd school schedules are not a great concern for the center.

The Creative Learning Center is not alone. Many learning and child care centers do not care for school-age children, making child care for young students even harder to find.

United Way of Prince Edward President Rucker Snead said Friday, July 10, the community has always had a problem with daycare services. He said child care is an issue even when the economy is doing fine.

“It’s going to be a real issue this fall,” he added.

A survey published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children Monday, July 13, found 86% of child care facilities which have reopened are serving fewer children now than prior to the pandemic, and on average, enrollment is down by 67%.

School schedules and child care become an even bigger problem when considering the many teachers across the area who are also parents to young children.

Superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools Dr. Chip Davis said the school system is currently working on a plan to provide child care for staff.

“Plans are not finalized yet,” he added. “With the limited resources and requirements of social distancing we are not able to provide child care for the community.”

Buckingham County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks said school officials are aware child care is a big concern for both families and teachers. She explained while Buckingham did consider this when developing reopening plans, social distancing guidance had to be followed as well.

“I did speak with our local DSS and some local pastors to let them know that this would be a need,” she said. “Unfortunately, I have not heard from anyone who is offering child care at this time. DSS did inform me that child care providers were very limited in this area. I believe our community will support each other during these difficult times, as we did when schools closed in March.”

Others are wondering how parents will be able to afford daycare services even if they are available, sparking questions about whether or not certain initiatives, such as DSS’ Child Care Subsidy Program, will be expanded to meet the needs of those affected by coronavirus restrictions and complicated school reopenings.

Others, like Hicks, hope that local churches and other organizations will step up to meet the needs of local families.

Cletisha Lovelace, associate director of public relations for Virginia DSS, said the department recognizes the concerns and challenges many parents will be faced with navigating child care when school begins in the fall, saying the state is in uncharted territory.

“We are actively working with federal, state and community partners to provide programs and resources that support children and their families during this unprecedented time.”

Lovelace said while DSS has no specific details to provide at this time, the department expects to release program and resource information in the near future.