‘All about service’ — Emergency Brock ton-area programs provide child care for essential workers
As of Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all of the state’s child care programs closed, except for emergency locations designed for children of essential workers.
By Mina Corpuz
With nonessential businesses closed and people advised to stay home statewide, more than 20 emergency child care programs in southeastern Massachusetts are watching the children of employees continuing to work during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re all about service to kids and families in our communities,” said Vincent Marturano, president and CEO of Old Colony YMCA, which is
providing emergency care in five communities. “It’s what we would call social responsibility and what we’re called to do.”
Initially, as of March 23, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all of the state’s child care programs closed through April 6. But Baker extended that order on Wednesday, keeping all schools and nonemergency child care programs closed until at least May 4. More than 300 programs were allowed to stay open on an emergency basis and provide free care for the children of essential workers.
Priority is given to health care workers, law enforcement, emergency response personnel, grocery store employees, transportation and infrastructure workers, sanitation workers, families involved with the Department of Children and Families and families in shelters. There is no cost to families using the emergency program. People can apply by visiting the state’s “Exempt Emergency Child Care Program” website for a list of providers. They can find local programs and call the programs directly to inquire if there is a spot for their child. The website is: https://eeclead.force.com/apex/EEC_ChildCareEmergencyProcedure.
Currently, the child care programs aren’t designed to meet the specific needs of children who require special attention physically or developmentally, according the state’s program website. There are 18 emergency child care programs in the Brockton area, two in Plymouth and four in Taunton.
They are able to care for infants, toddlers, school-aged children and teenagers up to 14 years old. Most of them are home-based and nearly 10 are centers. All are open Monday through Friday, but only five in the area are open on the weekend.
“We’re trying to keep everything consistent as it would be without COVID-19,” said Tracey Wilson, director of Agape Child Care and Family Life Center in Brockton. “You just do everything the way you would do it normally.”
The center has been able to do that by sticking to routine, like educational programming, activities and meals throughout the day. Agape currently has 34 students enrolled at the center, Wilson said. Emergency providers can care for a maximum of 40 children, but some programs like Old Colony YMCA have gotten exemptions at two of their bigger sites in Brockton and Stoughton to care for up to 80. Old Colony YMCA is also providing child care in Middleboro, Plymouth and Taunton.
Overall, there are 240 spots available and 212 children have enrolled as of Wednesday, said Kim Moran, senior vice president of child development and protection for the Old Colony YMCA. Of the children enrolled, 172 are families that work in health care, 12 are from families in law enforcement and 28 are from the general public and work jobs including retail, she said.
“They’re grateful they have the opportunity to continue to work so that they’re not losing income,” Moran said. She recalled meeting a single mother from Brockton with a 13-year-old who started crying when she learned she could drop off her son at the center instead of leaving him home alone while she worked.
Children’s Express Learning Center in West Bridgewater has 26 enrolled and another six are expected to start next week, said owner Maureen Sass. Most of their families work in health care and others work at grocery stores in the area. The process for parents to enroll their children has been positive so far, especially for families that haven’t been to the center before, she said. “It must be nerve-wracking,” Sass said. “It’s important for them to feel comfortable."
She understands that it can be a hard time for the parents, and staff encourages them to call and check in on their children. There is also consideration about how the children in the emergency care programs are feeling while their parents away. Wilson, of the Agape Child Care and Family Life Center in Brockton, said staff members are focusing on supporting the children in their care. “They’re working hard to make the kids feel relaxed, comfortable and have fun day not thinking about the severity of the job mom and dad are doing,” she said.
Because the child care centers aren’t caring for as many children as they typically do, there is room to spread out in the facilities. Staff at the Old Colony YMCA sites are keeping rooms to groups of 10, Moran said. Agape is using two of its seven rooms for child care with 20 children in
each room, Wilson said. One room is for infants and toddlers, the other is for preschool and school-aged kids.
To keep their care facilities clean, most are having staff meet parents at the door for drop-off. Before children and staff come in, their temperature is checked. The centers are being cleaned throughout the day by staff and at night by professional cleaning companies. Sass, of Children’s Express Learning Center, said staff has alternated classrooms to allow rooms to be disinfected every other day.
“We run a very clean program,” she said. “Our staff is very conscious of hand-washing and sanitizing procedures to make sure the center is a
healthy place to be.”