Childcare: The Importance of Safely Reopening Amid COVID-19


Air Date: April 20, 2020

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Tom Wyatt, CEO, Kindercare, Lesley Crawford, Owner and Director, ABK Learning & Development Center

While parents with young children look toward returning to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, they won’t be able to do so unless they can find reliable childcare.

Childcare has always been an essential service, and its importance has only become more apparent in the wake of COVID-19. Quality childcare is a key component of the path toward returning to work, thus reopening the economy and returning closer to “normal life.”

In conversation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark, childcare leaders discussed the importance of reopening their centers, as well as how they’re doing so safely.

Childcare Centers Are Reopening — With Restrictions and Enhanced Safety Protocols

Tom Wyatt, CEO of Kindercare, reported that his company initially closed 75% of their centers in March. They prioritized keeping centers open that could serve children of essential workers, allowing those families to continue serving the community. However, the Kindercare centers look dramatically different than they did pre-pandemic.

Increased handwashing and sanitation protocols, significantly reduced occupancy, daily temperature checks, and face masks for children and teachers are all part of their new normal. Kindercare also placed a second center director to ensure that health and safety protocols could be carried out appropriately.

Although things appear different, Wyatt and his team work to create “the most normal conditions and experiences for children as we possibly can,” citing concerns about mental wellness as a result of the pandemic.

“[The children have] understood that we were doing things differently,” Wyatt added. “Some of our kids are actually having fun doing the elbow kind of goodbye, instead of the big hugs and kisses [...] So we’re practicing the right things and making it fun.”

To Stay Open, Childcare Centers Need Greater Financial Support

Lesley Crawford, owner and director of ABK Learning & Development Center, has had similar changes in her 24-hour childcare program. Modified drop-off and pick-up protocols, daily temperature checks with non-touch thermometers, and shoe coverings have all been implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

With limited operating capacity and increased safety protocols, Crawford admitted that running a childcare facility and continuing to pay all of her staff is an increasing cost. She hopes to receive more financial assistance for her business so she can continue to operate safely without having to raise prices.

“It’s already a horrendous process … as it stands,” Crawford added. “So, to add more costs onto that, there would be a lot of parents [who] wouldn’t be able to afford care at all.”

Wyatt cited similar concerns regarding families’ access to childcare. While low-income families have federal support of the Child Care & Development Block Grant, it doesn’t help parents who have been recently furloughed or have otherwise suffered a loss to their income.

In the meantime, Crawford and Wyatt both continue to do everything they can to support their staff and their clients during these challenging times.

Communication and Modeling Help Children Understand, Puts Families at Ease

Young children today are faced with new challenges they might not initially understand, such as complying with social distancing protocols.

Crawford emphasized that communication is key to helping children follow these guidelines. She recommended having frequent conversations, as well as role-playing different scenarios, regarding the virus and how to stay safe.

While parents have also had to adjust to changing protocols, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with parents appreciating the implementation of these additional safety measures.

“They saw that we were responding to the threats we had and taking them seriously,” Wyatt said. “At this point, the confidence level of our centers … may be the highest it’s ever been.”

The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.