Early childhood expert: Why child-care centers should be closed during the covid-19 crisis

It is inexplicable that programs for children under age 5 — programs that operate on…


It is inexplicable that programs for children under age 5 — programs that operate on a financial shoestring, that pay their teachers and caregivers barely above minimum wage, and are on the brink of going out of business if their income flow is interrupted — are expected to stay open while primary schools and above are closed. Yet, like children younger than age 5, children ages 5 to 10 or even older cannot be left alone at home if their parents are unavailable.

Meisels said in an email that there should be options for first responders and some others who must have child care, but the answer is not as easy as it sounds because they don’t all live near one another. “If we put these programs together near medical centers, that would only serve a portion of the need,” he said.

“In my dreams, I would hope that public schools would try to serve as hubs to match children with families (where the children hopefully have friends) who can take some of these children in while their parents are at work,” he said. “But this kind of social networking does not happen by itself and is fairly rare in our part of the world.”

By Samuel J. Meisels

First colleges and universities announced that they would provide only online teaching while their staff worked from home. Then K-12 schools closed their doors so their teachers could figure out what remote learning would look like for their students. Later, many businesses, restaurants, bars and other places where people gathered publicly in groups were locked down. Some states went to total “shelter in place.” But there remains a glaring exception: Child-care centers are still open in many states.

Child care for children younger than age 5 has remained in operation — albeit with smaller class sizes — for those parents in many places who say they need it and especially for children of first responders, the medical workforce and other essential personnel.

There are several reasons for this, some closely tied to the pervasive economic struggles of child-care providers in the United States. Although professors and K-12 teachers continue to be paid while they work remotely, early care and education teachers and caregivers are not. Moreover, many programs lack the resources to survive if they close for even a few weeks.

But when child-care programs remain open, they are placing children and families at risk. As a recent article by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley points out, “Babies don’t do social distancing.”

Basically, three groups are affected when child-care programs remain in operation.

First are the children. A forthcoming paper in Pediatrics by Chinese researchers states that “children at all ages were susceptible to COVID-19 … Clinical manifestations of pediatric patients were generally less severe than those of adult patients. However, young children, particularly infants, were vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.” Clearly, much more must be learned about how the virus affects children before we can feel safe allowing them to be exposed to it on a regular basis.

Second are the adults with whom children come in contact. The research cited above makes clear that children can transmit the virus to others through contact. It concludes that there is “strong evidence for human-to-human transmission.” This would include contact with teachers, parents and staff at the child-care center as well as with other children who can carry the infection to additional homes. Moreover, given the age range of families who typically use child care, pregnant women may be among the parents of these children. Little is known about increased risk to pregnant women or their newborns as a result of exposure to the disease.

Third are all the others whom these children will encounter. We know that older adults and those who may have underlying health conditions are at increased risk to contract the virus. Grandparents and any adults with respiratory illness should be encouraged to stay away from children who attend child-care programs, as should their siblings and all children who may have compromised immunologic conditions.

This is a time for child-care programs to demonstrate their primary commitment to their clients by preserving the health and safety of their children and families.

This is also a time when we must encourage the federal government to provide funding to support child-care staff who otherwise would be without salaries and provide small business loans and other economic supports to programs that are unable to survive in the face of uncertain income. Finally, it is a time for public health departments, mayors, and governors to recognize their obligation to ensure that children are kept safe and do not contract or contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

It is inexplicable that programs for children under age 5 — programs that operate on a financial shoestring, that pay their teachers and caregivers barely above minimum wage, and are on the brink of going out of business if their income flow is interrupted — are expected to stay open while primary schools and above are closed. Yet, like children younger than age 5, children ages 5 to 10 or even older cannot be left alone at home if their parents are unavailable.

This is not an argument to reopen schools during a pandemic. This is an indictment of a society that says it treasures its children but does not demonstrate care nor provide appropriate economic supports for those who teach and work with them day after day.

For Alicia Melo, a child-care director in a small town in Nebraska, many questions remain. She asks:

Why are infants, toddlers, preschoolers and child-care providers less important than teachers and children in grades K-12? Why are local businesses and parents locking their doors downtown and not allowing anyone inside except by appointment or to be met at the curb? Yet we are opening our doors every single day and letting in 10 tiny children who can’t wash their own hands, who continuously lick and touch everything and anyone in sight, and can’t distance themselves by at least six feet. It doesn’t matter how big the classroom is. Children play together, closely. They kiss babies, they touch babies, they give babies toys, and the baby puts the toy straight in their mouth. I pat a baby’s back as he or she licks my shoulder and then move on to the next baby who will do the same thing.

The decision to keep child-care programs open is both problematic and dangerous. What we know about epidemics of this kind is that preventive action is critical to stopping their spread. That’s why K-12 public schools and universities across the country are closed.

As a nation, we have not prepared for this pandemic. Sadly, we have also not anticipated what is necessary to care for all children in the first 10 to 12 years of their life.

We need to develop criteria for access to emergency child-care programs that can be used only when priority workers have no other options. But most of all, we need to relieve child care of the burden it is carrying by developing community-based solutions in which networks of caring adults can make room in their families to support children whose parents are putting their lives on the line to protect and save us. It’s time to care for those who care for us.



Source link