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Child Care In The Time Of COVID-19
Capacity and attendance at daycare centres across the region have fluctuated wildly as a result of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions mandated by the Province of Ontario and the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.
With many parents working from home, a large number have been able to care for their children without absorbing the expense of daily child care services.
To help ease the burden for those with no choice but to work outside their homes, the province announced earlier this year that essential workers in a host of different employment sectors would be eligible for free emergency child care. For a list of employment sectors and more information, visit: Ontario.ca.
But, it’s been a struggle for many parents whose children have been in and out of school over the last 16 months.
Last year in the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, for instance, schools closed to in-person learning on March 14 and remained closed until the end of the scheduled school year in June 2020.
Schools re-opened in September 2020 with students having the option to attend virtually or in-person, according to Board Communications Coordinator Stephen Fields, before closing to in-person learning December 14 to 18.
The province later extended that closure until January 11, 2021 for elementary school students, and to January 25 for high school students with the local board, later extending the elementary closures to fall in line with high schools.
After another extension, schools eventually opened for in-person learning on February 8, 2021.
Schools closed again April 19 and will remain closed until fall 2021.
The same closures were in effect in the Greater Essex County District School Board, according to spokesperson Scott Scantlebury, and many parents were able to care for their children at home.
It also meant that daycare centres across the region were met with changing enrolment numbers.
In an attempt to provide information to parents about services, rates and adherence to COVID-19 protocols, Biz X magazine contacted a cross-section of daycare centres and also investigated how the industry is dealing with the pandemic, in this follow up to a past feature story published two years ago.
Creative Child Learning Centre
Michelle DiCarlo opened the Creative Child Learning Centre as a private business in 1999, and it stayed that way for 19 years before she switched it over to non-profit status in order to bid on a $2.3 million provincial government-funded expansion of the centre’s Stella Maris Catholic Elementary School site.
“It enabled us to expand our programs and take in more children,” explains DiCarlo, now the centre’s Executive Director.
Creative Child, currently, has about 65 children enrolled at 260 Murray Street in Amherstburg and will eventually have another 165 spaces at Stella Maris.
Daily rates are $50 for infants, $42 for toddlers and $40 for pre-schoolers at Murray Street. There are also before-and-after school programs for $7 an hour, as well as school-break programs, for $30 a day. All rates include lunch and snacks.
At Stella Maris, the rates are $30 for a full day for children for junior kindergarten to grade 6 and $18 for a half day. Students must bring their own lunch and snacks.
Parents of children in the program are eligible to apply to the City of Windsor for subsidies based on their family income and how many children they have.
“We currently have a staff of 20 and we will be adding four more once we open our new location,” says DiCarlo. She adds, “All our staff have an extensive knowledge in Early Childhood Education and are passionate about teaching. “
DiCarlo says that she is beginning to see first and second-generation children enrolled at the centre and that it’s remarkably fulfilling to see former students bring their own children in for daycare services.
Most of the centre’s activities have been moved outdoors and child yoga classes are on hold until COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.
“We just have to be more creative in keeping the children stimulated,” explains DiCarlo, who had to close the centre from mid-March to July 4 in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Staff members, who have all received their first vaccinations (at the time of writing), take the children’s temperatures when they arrive in the morning and they are also monitored throughout the day for possible symptoms.
“It’s critically important to follow all the COVID protocols for the peace of mind of our staff, children and parents,” stresses DiCarlo.
Creative Child has locations at 260 Murray Street and 140 Girard Street (Stella Maris), both in Amherstburg.
The Sunshine Academy Daycare
After almost eight years working in the daycare sector, Lucie Melo decided to open The Sunshine Academy Daycare in September 2019.
“It was a difficult step to take because you’re not only responsible for yourself, but also for your employees. But it has been very rewarding,” indicates Melo who has eight employees at the centre’s one location.
Melo also had to shutdown from mid-March of last year until July because of COVID-19 restrictions, but is back in business again with 24 children in the pre-school program and another 15 in the toddler group.
“We have a waiting list at the moment and if the federal government follows through with its budget promise of $10 a day rates, we expect the demand will go through the roof because it will allow a lot more people to resume careers they’ve had to put on hold, or start their career,” she says.
Melo currently charges $41 daily for pre-schoolers and $43 for toddlers. There’s also a before-school program for $10 and an after-school session for $12 with enrolment limited to five children in each.
Her staff members are either Early Childhood Educators or Child and Youth Workers. All have first aid and CPR training as well as food-handling certificates through the provincial Ministry of Health.
Since pandemic restrictions came into effect, Melo informs Biz X there has been a greater focus on outdoor activities and the play area adjoining the centre has tunnels and a jungle gym to help keep children active.
Pre-COVID, the centre also offered music and yoga programs, however, those have been put on hold for the time being.
Parents are no longer allowed in the building when dropping their children off. Staff take temperatures of the children before taking them to their play areas and temperatures are also taken later in the day. Children aged six and up wear masks and all staff wear Personal Protective Equipment.
“It’s a lot more work for everyone, but it’s essential in order to keep everyone safe and healthy,” adds Melo.
The centre is located at 805 Front Road in LaSalle.
Delta Chi Early Childhood Centres
With 10 locations and an 11th on the way, the Delta Chi Early Childhood Centres is one of the largest child care facilities in the region.
It was incorporated in July 1986 and opened its doors to its first cohort of children in September of that year.
“Not all of our centres are at full capacity right now because a lot of parents are working from home and don’t need child care at the moment,” reports Jennifer Sprague Oglan, Delta Chi’s Director of Marketing & Communications. “Our capacity figures are often determined by the demographics of the area of the city where they are located.”
Oglan says there has been a large decline in enrolment because of the provincially-mandated lockdown and the fact some parents have been working from home for months.
Delta Chi has 11 sites, but six of them are currently closed because the schools where they are located are also closed because of provincial restrictions.
“We’ve moved a lot of our programs outdoors where it’s safer for both our staff and the children,” explains Oglan. “Our campuses have a lot of green areas and trees where children can play so it has worked out quite well overall.”
The centres have fulltime screeners and cleaners to make sure toys, high-touch areas, desks and chairs are cleaned after every use before they are put back into general circulation. There’s also a cleaning crew that comes in at night to sanitize the entire building in preparation for the next day’s programming.
“We take temperatures when the children arrive and parents have to fill out a four-page questionnaire, as mandated by the provincial Ministry of Education, every day,” Oglan says. She continues with: “There are added costs to all of this, and with decreased enrolment, it’s a challenge, but it’s all about the safety of our children and staff.”
Site closures have reduced staffing levels from 85 to about 60.
“Our staff are the unsung heroes throughout all this,” Oglan emphasizes. “The biggest impact has been on the parents because the kids love being back with their friends.”
Daily rates, which are eligible for City of Windsor subsidies, are $46 for infants, $40 for toddlers, $36 for pre-schoolers and $34.50 for school-age children. There’s also a latch-key program for $7.50 an hour. All rates include lunch and a snack.
Bright Child Montessori School
John and Melissa Tregaskiss, operators of Bright Child, bill their 10-year-old non-profit as a child care centre built around the Montessori philosophy of eco-friendly education and child development. Maria Montessori called her program for early childhood “casa dei bambini” or “the children’s house.”
“We try not to refer to it as a child care centre because we believe we offer much more,” says John.
Until COVID-19 restrictions took effect, that included half-day nature exploration trips to Holiday Beach and Camp Bryerswood where the children had opportunities to walk on the beach, swing from ropes, dig holes, climb the park’s Hawk Tower, splash in puddles and generally explore nature.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for our children to see the world around them and explore,” explains John. “But, we had to bring that to a halt for the time being because of social distancing and transportation issues.”
However, music programs and yoga have continued while observing all the new rules.
“Our children spend a lot of time outside in our outdoor classrooms where we have planted 17 new trees, which give our children a chance to observe their growth,” John adds. “There are also hills and a butterfly area for children to explore.”
Daily rates, which are eligible for a City of Windsor subsidy, are $60 for infants, $50 for toddlers, $45 for Casa programs for children between the age of 30 months and four years, and $36 for kindergartners between the ages of four and six. All rates include breakfast, lunch and a snack.
There are also partial week rates depending upon the needs of individual families.
The school day ends at 3 p.m., but children in the after-school program can stay until 5:30 p.m.
Temperatures are taken each morning and the children are monitored all day. Teachers wear Personal Protective Equipment and there is a great emphasis on hand-washing and other healthy and safe protocols.
The Bright Child Montessori School is located at 236 Cherrylawn Crescent in Amherstburg.