The Journal Gazette
Saturday, March 28, 2020 1:00 am

Child care centers feel pinch of virus

Operators emphasize kids', workers' health

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The confusion and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis haven't escaped child care operations. 

As doctors work to treat an increasing number of patients infected with the new coronavirus and millions of people try to slow its spread through measures such as social distancing, child cares and early learning centers are adjusting to a new normal. 

That means lots of hand washing and disinfecting, but there are also questions from providers in Fort Wayne and across Indiana about fluctuating enrollment and simply staying open. 

Dianna Wallace is executive director of the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children, an Indianapolis group that counts more than 300 child care and education businesses among its members in the northeast portion of the state. She said some providers have seen increases in enrollment, as employers have closed and employees are working from home. 

Others are welcoming fewer children daily because parents have opted to keep them home, she said. 

“Things are changing so rapidly,” said Wallace, a former kindergarten teacher who has led the organization since 2002. “It's dependent on the families. Some of these operations are closing as well.”

A stay-at-home order from Gov. Eric Holcomb that went into effect this week allows child care and other essential businesses to stay open while many others are closed in an effort to slow the virus.

“There is a critical need for child care for those workers who are taking care of others and helping Hoosiers keep food and supplies in their homes,” he said in a statement. 

A memo to providers from the state Family and Social Services Administration says child care facilities “are necessary to continue to support the function of societal operations.” The document outlines operational guidelines including giving first priority to children of medical professionals and other essential workers. 

Child care providers should monitor children for symptoms including fever, according to the memo, and set aside one hour per day for “deep cleaning” when children are not around. 

La Petite Academy, a child care provider on Engle Road, is following guidance from state and local officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Lydia Cisaruk, communications director for the facility's parent company, Learning Care Group. 

Children and employees are screened for symptoms, she said, and La Petite will close if a child or worker is diagnosed with COVID-19.

“We've restricted vendors and visitors,” Cisaruk said in an email. “All school parents are staying in common areas rather than entering our classrooms. Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our children, employees and school families.”

Tammy Tucker also is working hard for children and their families. 

She owns Precious Cherubs, a home-based child care provider on Fairfield Avenue. The operation is small – only about 14 children are enrolled – but it's needed for the families she serves. 

One such family includes a parent in the military who needs a place to send their child, Tucker said. 

“These kids, you have no idea how important they are – and their families are – to me,” she said. “They become your family. I have to be here for the parents.”

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