With child care declared an essential service, one day-care operator in Kamloops is hoping the entire profession emerges from times of pandemic with a little extra support from the provincial government.
In the past week, the Parasol Early Years Learning day care downtown has gone from having 190 children to less than 20.
Manager Natalie Statham said the day care has temporarily closed its doors to non-essential-service parents. The only children who remain belong to parents who are doctors, nurses, health-care and community-support workers, firefighters and grocery or pharmacy staff.
“Anyone on the frontlines,” Statham said.
The temporary closure will remain until April 6, when the privately owned day care will re-assess its situation. Parents whose children cannot attend during this time will have their spots held — something only made possible with funding announced late last week by the provincial government, covering approximately 75 per cent of operating costs for day cares that choose to stay open.
“We’re told that as early childhood educators (ECEs), we’re deemed essential services. We’ve never been called that before. It’s kind of like, OK in this time of need and crisis, we’re now finally essential,” Statham said.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry deemed child care an essential service at a COVID-19 press briefing last week.
ECEs have long negotiated with government for additional funding, some of which has been approved by the NDP government. An additional dollar-per-hour wage increase will come into effect on April 1.
But that increase was negotiated months ago.
“Now? It’s like, OK. What if we all closed? Where would the nurses and doctors, firefighters and pharmacists put their children? If you deem us essential, you absolutely need to pay us more,” Statham said.
At the beginning of last week, Statham said she was praying the day care would close.
Even before the pandemic, day-care staff would regularly wash the hands of children. If the kids developed a cough or cold, they would be sent home.
“We’ve amped that up,” Statham said.
Despite the increased measures, risks to health remain, since child care is unavoidably done in close quarters.
“It’s fearful,” she said. “If little Johnny wants a hug and I’m supposed to practise social distancing, I’m going to go in for the hug. What are the repercussions of that? We don’t know. We have no idea.”
Beginning this week, children at Parasol are screened upon entry for fever and assessed.
But the day care remains open and Statham said that is because she and her staff feel a responsibility to remain open and serve parents on the frontlines.
While some hours have been reduced, Parasol has kept its staff despite reduced enrolment.