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COVID-19 challenge: Child care

By Staff | Apr 9, 2020

With COVID-19 causing school closures, unemployment and an economic crisis, those who double as a parent and essential worker are having to find alternatives for childcare.

This situation may be most confusing for children, who have been taken out of classrooms, separated from their friends and might have a hard time grasping the magnitude of the current situation, especially among the youngest.

At risk, in particular, are kids who do not have the benefit of a stable home.

The National Youth Advocate Program, which has an office in Cape Coral, is working to recruit foster parents for misplaced kids.

While it seems as if most of the world has stopped, child abuse and neglect continues, and may even be fueled by the immense stress of the situation.

NYAP recruits and licenses foster parents and maintains foster homes. They are still open for business and eager to train and license foster parents in a safe and convenient way.

While they are not able to hold open houses and training classes in-person, they are using virtual methods to get foster parents approved.

“We’ve been doing for of the virtual training, which has actually been working out really well,” said Melanie Brock, licensing manager with NYAP. “We also plan on doing our planning classes the same way.”

NYAP has a therapist on staff to connect with children in homes. During this period, they have been meeting virtually as well.

Brock said with the current climate, the need for foster parents would certainly continue to climb. Frankly, she said, there’s always a need for foster parents.

“The need now is going to be greater with all of the things happening in the community,” Brock said. “There’s always a need for foster parents, but it’s only going to get greater with everything going on.

“It’ll be harder to find families that want to take kids because of everything going on.”

Children with abusive parents, who may have found an escape in school, or after school programs, or sports, may now be more vulnerable to abuse with layoffs and high-tensions. It’s imperative these children get the refuge they need and not be forgotten about due to other circumstances in the world, she said.

“It’s extremely important (to give abused children a home),” Brock said. “Now more than ever — more because it’s so stressful for everybody with everything that’s going on. Unfortunately, people that already have stressful lives to begin with, when they encounter this extra stress, it puts more strain on the family dynamic. That’s usually why you see that rise of kids coming in.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the foster parent experience can find answers at 321-722-7778 or visit www.NYAP.org.

Parents, with most day cares and all schools closed, are having to call on siblings, relatives and even their own older children to help carry the load.

Parents who are lucky enough to work from home are still juggling the needs of their children while still being productive.

Sam Fisher, a Cape Coral resident and essential worker, along with his wife, also an essential worker, have three children, including 4-year-old twin girls.

“It’s difficult, just like anyone else,” Fisher said. “Obviously we have to adapt with that’s going on — it’s quite an adjustment.”

The Fishers have had to coordinate their schedules in a way that they can both continue to be productive at their workplace while making sure their children have the care they need.

Sometimes, it’s just Fisher working from home while his wife is at her veterinary practice. Sometimes they’re both there.

Fisher said his 10-year-old son has stepped up and taken more responsibility in the house as well.

What he tries to do is replicate, as much as he can, a usual day for his kids.

“We have our kids all kind of set to a schedule and I try my best to adhere to it. It’s not easy,” Fisher said. “We have them work on their school work and print out worksheets, educational information on websites.”

While adults certainly understand the situation at hand, it may be confusing for children, who have had their worlds turned upside down, not really knowing why.

“I’m very open with my kids,” Fisher said. “(The girls) are 4-years-old, there’s only so much they comprehend. They don’t understand certain things; why they can’t go to day care or play with friends. But they’re adhering to it well. Even though they might not understand, you have to be honest as best as you can and explain the situation as easily as you can.”

His twins were going to day care in the beginning of the pandemic, but they decided to close down due to the current climate, something Fisher understands.

Parents who are essential workers that have relied on day care services may be looking for ways to continue bringing home an essential paycheck while making sure their children are safe.

Hope Castelli, owner of Advanced Learning Academy in North Fort Myers, decided to close due to lower attendance and to follow CDC guidelines.

“We made the decision to close at that point (lower attendance) due to the fact that there were only a few families of essential workers having their children in attendance at that time,” she said.

She hopes that essential workers with children who need care can rely on family to help them out, if possible.

“Many of our essential workers that are still employed have family members and/or friends that are unemployed right now due to COVID-19, and are able to have their family members/friends care for their child to keep them from unnecessarily being in a group setting,” Castelli said. “So we decided that with the US Surgeon General’s warning that this, and possibly next, week being the worst for our country due to COVID-19, that it would be best if we continue our closure throughout the end of next week, and take it ‘week-by-week’ until the end of April or the worst of the pandemic is out of our area.”

Castelli also is looking out for the safety of the children she cares for and her staff.

“We would feel safer for our children and staff to return to a group setting (when things settle),” she said. “With so many family members and friends being unemployed at this time, it does not seem necessary for a child to be placed in a group setting, causing even more potential for spread among the children, to the children’s families, to our staff, to our staff’s families, or to our community.”

While some day cares are still staying open, some parents are opting out.

Cape Coral resident and mother of three, Brooke Toomey, pulled her 4-year-old out of a Cape Coral day care on Friday, March 20, not at any fault of the facility, but because of her own apprehensions.

“I can keep my kids safe if they are home with me rather than being around other children that I’m not sure their parents are taking the same precautions as I am,” Toomey said. “I take this virus very seriously and there are other people that aren’t. My kids and I are social distancing until it’s safe. We aren’t going anywhere around other people. It’s just not worth taking the chance when it comes to my kids. But, I’m one of the lucky ones to be able to work from home.”

Toomey said her daughter’s day care sanitized all day and after the students left and had everyone who entered through the door use hand sanitizer. Parents were not allowed past the front office when dropping off or picking up children.

Though these precautions are needed and are important, it wasn’t enough for Toomey to send her child while she is able to work from home and is being careful, as are many mothers throughout the country.

“Day cares can be very risky because children won’t stay 6-feet apart and they are always touching each other,” Toomey said. “There’s no way for teachers to prevent children from playing and being close to each other.”

Toomey also understands that essential workers with children have few options.

“Most essential workers have no other choice than to send their kids to day care, especially ones in healthcare,” Toomey said. “I pulled my daughter out of day care even though they were open because there are other children attending with parents that work in healthcare. If you have the option to work from home, you should keep your kids home for their safety. I don’t know if closing all day cares is the right decision because some people need them to continue working, especially the ones that are saving lives. It’s a very hard decision to make for parents and day cares, I’m sure.”

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj