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YWCA Child Care 101316
YWCA Child care
Marathon County already had about half the child care spots it did eight years ago. Now, Coronavirus has shuttered another ⅓ of those.
When the state in March ordered businesses that were non-essential to close in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, child care centers were considered essential businesses and were allowed to stay open. Owners of those centers, such as Lynn Barttelt of ABC Family Child Care in Weston, had a decision to make, and it wasn’t an easy one.
“For me it was a very hard decision to stay open or close,” Barttelt told City Pages. “On the one hand, I know most of the families needed me for care, and this is my only source of income. On the other hand, this is my home and, do I make parents pay if I close as this is a state of emergency?”
It turned out, the decision was made for Barttelt. Her 7-year-old son developed a fever and to be safe, doctors quarantined the household for 14 days; that included Barttelt, their son, and Barttelt’s husband who works in the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s a decision child care centers in Marathon County have had to make, and a good number of them have decided to close. In October, City Pages reported that Marathon County had lost half of its child care providers in about an eight year span.
That’s gotten worse now. Childcaring, and non-profit agency aimed at boosting child care in Marathon County, says 30-40% of the child care centers in Marathon County have closed their doors in the wake of the Coronavirus. And how many of those will reopen once the pandemic is over (a goal line that itself is murky at best), is anyone’s guess.
That number is roughly the same statewide, by the way. According to the Department of Children and Families, roughly 40% of child care providers across the state have decided to close their doors temporarily.
Childcaring leaders were surprised when child care was considered essential after schools were closed. “I think it became scary for those providers,” says Childcaring Director Kelly Borchardt. “How would they protect themselves, the children, and their families?”
A tough decision
Kalli Yaklyvich also had a tough decision to make. Her job at Wipfli CPAs and Consultants allowed her to work from home during the Coronavirus shutdown, but her husband still needed to report in person. Does she keep her child in day care, with the potential risks of exposing her child and family to the Coronavirus? Or does she take him out and try to manage watching a child while working full time, and risk losing her child care spot?
City Pages followed up with Yaklyvich because she was one of the parents City Pages spoke to for a feature story last October on the child care shortage in Marathon County. Already finding child care was tough, and she was one of those who shared her stories about the difficulty of finding child care. Because of that, she covets her child’s day care because she really likes it and finding day care spots can be tough.
She was surprised her day care stayed open. “So, I’ve continued to bring my son to day care (for many reasons), but I’ve struggled with the guilt of him continuing to go and potentially being exposed to the virus,” Yaklyvich told City Pages. “I knew that I couldn’t risk losing his spot because of how much we love this daycare facility, and also with my husband working out of the house full time and my job being full time as well, we need daycare going forward.”
After the 14-day quarantine, Barttelt decided to make the decision to open up. But only one of the seven children she typically watches returned. Most families decided to keep their children home for safety.
That lasted about five weeks. Now a few more have returned, but one is still out and another is moving so won’t be returning. Barttelt didn’t charge any of the parents whose children weren’t attending, so the loss of income was a blow to Barttelt. She took one call seeking a child care spot but turned it down because she was concerned about adding a new family into the mix with the potential risks of further exposure to the Coronavirus.
Barttelt applied for regular unemployment and was denied, and applied for PUA unemployment. She applied the first day it was available, and was told there would be a 30-day wait.
To date, she hasn’t heard anything on her application; no letter, no check. Just silence.
For those who do bring on new clients, that comes with challenges too, says Childcaring Assistant Director Micki Krueger. Those providers now need to consider the habits of that family, whether they’re likely to practice safe social distancing and keep themselves corona-free.
Another challenge going forward is that even as providers open, things will look a lot different at those facilities that remain open or reopen. Many will have spaces for fewer children, since there will be distancing requirements and limits on numbers of students. The department of Children and Families recommends no one older than 60, pregnant, or with underlying health conditions or Covid-19 symptoms provide child care. It recommends group sizes of no more than 10 total including children and adults.
And if someone in the program should contract Covid-19, according to the DCF recommendations, the center should consider closing from one to two weeks. One positive case could put a number of families out of child care.
Kueger says the decision about whether to continue sending a child to child care is a difficult one – Krueger herself had to make that decision with her two children, 13 and 8. “It was really tough at first to get into a routine,” Krueger told City Pages. Krueger opted to keep her children at home. “My kiddos learned quickly when we were super busy.”
The challenges are even greater for those in rural areas. Krueger lives in Merrill in a rural setting, and one of the first things she had to do was find an internet connection that worked well enough so she could do her work and her children could also do her school work. “That first week I was soaking up all the internet available,” Krueger says. The children weren’t able to access their own work.
Many in Marathon County don’t have that option, as the county is in the midst of developing a plan to tackle broadband. Some don’t even have access to adequate 911 services, let alone high speed internet.
What about holding spots? It has been a mix, Borchardt says. Some places were still charging parents, and some weren’t. And with some that weren’t charging parents, some parents paid anyway because they wanted to see their favorite child care facility stay open. Often that was because they were receiving child care assistance through the state, Borchardt says.
Help is on the way
The United Way and the Community Foundation of Northcentral Wisconsin has now raised more than $430,000 toward a joint Community Relief program. The top beneficiaries of that program so far – more than $110,000 of that money — has gone to child care, says Tara Glodowski, director of impact at the United Way. That includes to providers, as well as Childcaring Inc. itself.
Money for the program has continued to increase as donations come in on a daily basis, Glodowski says. “It’s blown my mind how much support the community has rallied around this,” Glodowski told City Pages. The account had grown $18,000 from Monday to Thursday when City Pages interviewed Glodowski.
And the state is getting on board with helping child care providers. A new program designated $51 million in relief for child care programs, Borchardt says. DCF launched a new program called the Covid-19 Emergency Payment Program. Application period for the first phase started May 18 and covers families of essential workers. Phase II in June covers an incentive pay for child care providers. And Phase III in July will support the cost of retaining staff and re-opening child care agencies. “That will hopefully keep those providers in business and help them through a tough time,” Borchardt says.
And, Krueger adds, with unemployment so high, it might lead to more people going into the child care business. Childcaring will be continuing its recruitment of new providers and its training sessions, though likely much differently, such as through virtual learning.
Krueger says she is optimistic. Already some facilities that closed initially — such as Wausau Child Care — reopened after a short period.
With some businesses already opening up and more expected to in the coming weeks, demand is expected to surge as parents once again need child care when they return to work .
Barttelt hopes that’s the case. She has applied to all three of the new programs being launched by DCF. She also received a grant from Childcaring for supplies for cleaning and disinfecting, but has had a hard time getting them since supplies are short right now, Barttelt told City Pages.
She’s counting on that increased demand. Right now she operates out of her home, but her dream is to open her own center and continues to look at buildings that might serve that future goal. “I have hopes that I will be able to help more families with child care in the future.”
See City Pages’ October feature on the child care crisis in Marathon County.