Indiana parents rethinking child care options amid pandemic

As more Hoosiers work from home during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the face of child care is changing for some.

State guidelines issued Friday outlined what daycares should do to maximum health and safety. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb deemed child care facilities an essential business during an order issued Monday to close all unnecessary public-facing businesses for two weeks.

The guidelines include that daycares should practice social distancing between children and staff, allowing no more than 20 children under supervision in one classroom. Providers should reserve an hour each day for deep cleaning when children aren’t present and take each child’s temperature each day on arrival to ensure they don’t have a fever of 100.4 or above.

Child care providers who are 60 or older or with underlying health conditions should close, and priority should be given to children of first responders, health care workers and others whose work is essential to stop the spread of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Although some child care facilities have opted to close, Jenny Hupp, owner at Cheerful Children Daycare and Preschool in New Albany, said she’s committed to staying open as long as it’s not prohibited.

“I have told all of my families we will remain open until either the state licensing shuts us down or it comes from the governor,” Hupp said in an interview Monday. She has a lot of parents in emergency work and the medical field. “I know if I can’t stay open for them, where are they going to take their kids? They have a job to do to take care of the sick and to keep our community safe.”

But the daycare is still operating with far fewer children than before. On Monday and Tuesday, Hupp said she had 41 children in the center; her full roster has 85. This has meant some of her workers don’t have a group of children to care for. To keep them on staff and able to earn a paycheck, she’s had them do some deep cleaning in unused rooms every day and rotating children to allow for this.

The daycare is also making sure the used areas are kept clean and sanitized each day and has reiterated to parents to keep their children home if they are ill.

“We’ve crossed our T’s and dotted our I’s,” she said. “We clean on a daily basis anyway; we sanitize our toys every day, we mop the entire building every day.”

She said New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan also visited this week, asking if they are good on supplies and food or need any help, “which to me spoke volumes of him because we don’t get that type of appreciation in this field,” she said. “So for him to go check on us meant a lot to me.”

Although the daycares their children attend are open, New Albany resident Erica Sartini-Combs and her husband made the decision to keep them home.

“It really started with doing our part to flatten the curve,” Sartini-Combs said. She’s a director of operations for a small business and her husband is in cyber security. “We have to do what we can to be responsible citizens. If we’re able to be home, we should keep our kids home.”

The couple still pays their daycares—the children go to different ones—which is standard practice to keep a spot. Sartini-Combs said she’s glad they’re able to do that right now.

“I think it’s so important that we keep paying because they’re also a small business,” she said. “Those teachers need to bring food home to the table for their kids and if we suddenly all pull their income, they fold and we’re not going to have a daycare to go back to anyway.”

But she worries about friends and others who are emergency and healthcare workers, the ones who are on the front lines of this and can’t work from home. A friend of hers in healthcare has recently learned that their daycare is not open during this.

“Who is going to be open for these healthcare workers?” she asked. “These kids need to go somewhere and these parents need to have that not on their list of stressors right now. That’s one of the biggest things for me—as they get overloaded and as they lose care, what are their options?”

In her own household, Sartini-Combs said working from home and the decision to keep the children at home has created new challenges, like explaining to their 5-year-old daughter why she can’t go to daycare when some of her friends still are. But it’s also brought about new opportunities as a family.

“She was really having a hard time missing her peer group; she was really having a hard time not having the structure,” Sartini-Combs said. “She’s a very routine person and I’m not able to give those things to her.”

But they’ve found ways to adapt. She and her husband rotate every hour and-a-half or so being in charge of the children, and they’ve come up with creative ways to keep them busy. That could mean rethinking their ideas of what a mess is—they have let the children paint the glass storm door with washable paint, for instance. They’ve also engaged in other art projects and looked for fun stuff to do around the yard.

To ensure they’re staying mentally well themselves, the couple also gives one another an hour each day alone. Sartini-Combs uses this time for things like yoga; her husband uses his to work out.

“As we’re trying to figure out what this new way of life is and how long it will be, it’s more important than ever to actually take time to fill up your own cup, because you can’t pour from an empty cup,” she said.

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