As sectors of the economy reopen and Vermonters are called back to work, the need for Vermont's childcare system to be operational again has become a top priority.
Last week, the governor announced that childcare programs could begin the transition to reopening on May 18 and be fully operational by June 1.
State subsidies paid since the declared State of Emergency based on enrollment numbers will transition to financial support based on attendance, putting more pressure on providers to open sooner rather than later.
My House Committee on Human Services took extensive testimony on the issue this week, receiving input from stakeholders with competing interests.
On May 13, the Child Development Division, in coordination with the Vermont Health Dept., released comprehensive health guidance for the state's childcare programs, summer camps and afterschool programs.
The 13-page document lays out new protocols for face masking, health checks, drop-off/pick-up, cleaning/disinfecting, hand hygiene, close contact, food preparation, caring for infants/toddlers, etc. See link: healthvermont.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/COVID19-Health-Guidance-for-Childcare-Afterschool-Summer-Programs.pdf.
The guidance says that a childcare facility can house no more than 25 people (including staff) at one time, an increase from the original guideline of 10 people provided last week.
The Governor also announced $6 million worth of "restart grants” for childcare providers to use flexibly for reopening their programs. The grants can be used for such expenses as: cleaning supplies, the hiring of additional staff to reduce class sizes, masks and gloves for staff, classroom supplies to avoid children sharing items, etc.
To be eligible for restart funding, a regulated childcare facility or day camp must be operational (part-time or full-time) by July 6.
Important: To access this restart funding, childcare providers must apply by Friday, May 22, less than one week away. Here are the criteria for application: dcf.vermont.gov/restart-request
Some childcare providers believe that the move to reopen is premature. Many are elevated in age, falling into the primary risk category for serious illness due to coronavirus. They are also concerned about the impossibilities of social distancing in an environment with infants and toddlers.
Likewise, cleaning/disinfectant supplies and PPE are still hard to come by as supply chains take time to reestablish themselves. Finally, the levels of daily cleaning required at the end of each day could mean 12-14 hour days for some staff.
One reason for the "soft opening" on May 18 is to allow the children of essential workers to transition back to their original childcare providers. More than 30 percent of Vermont's regulated early care programs have been providing care to 1,800 children throughout the State of Emergency.
Parents and caregivers are wrestling with competing priorities of employers that want them back to work quickly and the current challenges of having kiddos home for the reminder of the school year.
Getting Vermont's childcare and early education system back up and running to full capacity will not be an easy exercise in the coming weeks and months. If you are a family accessing childcare, it will require strong and regular communication with your program provider.
Feel free to reach out if you are experiencing issues in making this transition successfully: email@example.com.VT.us or (802) 488-0531.