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Caring for Kids While Parents Work During the Pandemic is a Valuable Public Service

Previous Coronavirus Aid Package Falls Short. Workers Need More from Congress.
By Jessica Powell ·
Caring for Kids While Parents Work During the Pandemic is a Valuable Public Service
Ronora James

The phrase “It takes a village” has never been truer than right now, during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Ronora James runs Ora’s Place, a group family day care in her home that has served families in Rochester, N.Y. for the past decade.

James, who is vice president of CSEA/VOICE Local 100A, a local that represents family child care providers throughout New York state, is one of thousands of AFSCME members on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

Most of the country’s children are out of school as the pandemic is forcing widespread school closures across the United States. On Wednesday, New York joined the list. All 50 states have taken drastic measures to prevent the spread of infection. But some day cares remain open.

“The families we serve are very glad we are still open. Over the weekend, when they anticipated the schools closing, I received nine text messages … all with the same plea: ‘Please be open,’” James says.

The need for quality child care services is especially great for emergency workers with young children.

“Fortunately, our parents who are teachers are keeping their children home with them, which frees up space for our other families,” James explains. “Many of them are in the health care field – nurses, nursing assistants, and caregivers supporting patients with developmental disabilities –and they are mandated to work during the crisis.”

She has no plans to close any time soon.

“We are not closing until we’re told by the state,” she says.

Day care centers and home-based child care providers across the nation are following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the states, trying to limit the number of children in groups and practicing social distancing as much as possible.

James and her team of four other dedicated caregivers – two assistant teachers and two substitutes – are following this guidance by taking extra precautions these days to keep everyone safe and healthy: “Washing hands more. Sanitizing more. Practicing safety and fire drills. We also have a sign posted asking you to not enter our day care if you are sick.”

The Office of Child and Family Services in Monroe County, New York, is offering temporary waivers that will allow group family child care providers to raise the standard provider-to-child ratio. Ronora has applied for one.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, James and her team typically provided care for six children ranging in age from infants to 4 years old. These days, they care for 16 children – mostly school age –while their parents must go to work.

James has requested a waiver to care for an additional four to six school-age children. If granted, the waiver would allow her to watch up to six additional school age children, bringing her day care’s capacity to 22. This will come in handy if other families in her community need child care services while they perform essential work during the COVID-19 crisis.

AFSCME members are pushing the federal government to send more direct aid to state and local governments. This is to help states and localities continue to provide quality public services to their residents and offer financial relief for individuals such as family child care providers who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Child care providers across the country provide an essential service in our communities every day. The health and well-being of the children, their families and her team are at the heart and soul of the essential work James does – and the importance of that work is magnified during this crisis.

That’s one of the reasons why she says she has a lot to be thankful for: “All of our kids are happy, healthy and having a ball!”

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