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The Necessity of Staying Open during COVID-19

8_Sharon Photo 1

By JunHee Doh

In March 2020, general uncertainty and fear about COVID-19 spread and layoffs became widespread across Los Angeles County. Sharon Sar, a licensed family child care provider of 22 years in Long Beach, is one of the lucky few who have been able to keep their doors open during COVID-19. After initially closing in March, Sharon was able to cautiously re-open with the help of her daughter and husband. But the number of children in her care went from 14 to four, and the fear of COVID-19 infection for her family hangs over every day as children come into her home.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon used to work seven days a week and as late as midnight, as her families worked very late shifts. Now, she is open from 7 am to 6 pm, with evenings focused on sanitizing, disinfecting, and washing everything after the children leave. It’s also when she can venture out to get food and supplies. While cautious and vigilant, asking parents to sign in outside and trying her best to stay up to date with health and safety guidelines, the added responsibilities and concerns have been exhausting. 

In mid-June, several children returned to Sharon’s care—as their families were required to return to work—growing her program from four to 10 children. Despite the fear of accepting new families during this uncertain time, she accepted two infants—eight and 18-month-olds—from a single mom who had just moved to California and desperately needed child care to work. Sharon noted, “How can I not support her? Despite my fears of COVID-19, the necessity of staying open has been greater. Many families have called me, and other providers to request child care, but providers are scared to accept because we are not sure where the families work and how exposed they are to the virus.”

Like many providers, cost pressures are growing with extensive public health guidelines and fewer children in her care. She is among the many providers she knows who have not received personal protection equipment (PPE) and sanitizing supplies. Sharon has purchased everything needed out of her own pocket. In addition to her regular bills, she now needs to spend more to keep her program open.

The biggest help so far has been a small business disaster loan that she was able to access with her daughter’s help on the application. This loan has a lower interest rate (3.75%) compared to banks, payments are minimal, and the loan is not due until 2021. Another light at the end of the tunnel: The Children’s Home Society recently informed her of a grant that she plans to apply for to pay back the government loan. Her daughter will again help with the paperwork. 

Despite intentional outreach efforts by agencies, many home-based providers remain isolated and overwhelmed. They report being so focused on staying afloat that they are barely able to check their email to see updated guidelines. Unless providers are on the Community Care Licensing list, or closely connected to resource and referral agencies (R&R) that support programs like her, providers lack timely access to information and resources from state and local support systems. If they are lucky, they access loans like Sharon, but these will eventually come due. They feel, and largely are, left on their own while struggling to stay open.

Providers like Sharon would benefit from supports like:

  • Greater outreach and engagement with home-based providers to ensure they can access information and distribution of supplies (e.g. PPE, sanitizing products, information on financial supports) in response to COVID-19 guidelines.
  • Consistent funding for agencies that support ELC programs to have the capacity to reach all providers to offer support and technical assistance, particularly home-based family child care providers that may not be a part of a support network.
  • Resources that strengthen and expand the capacity of home-based networks, particularly in the highest-need communities.
  • Technical assistance and guidance for providers with linguistically competent staff to identify and apply for grants, stipends, and resources. Assistance will help them access grant applications in a timely fashion, understand the application process, and receive support in filling out complicated forms.

Home-based providers, largely women of color, continue to welcome children of essential workers into their homes while under incredible stress from financial hardship and fears of COVID-19 exposure. Providers are essential workers that deserve the resources needed to safely keep their homes open to care for our youngest Californians.

Advancement Project California launched our early learning and care blog series to show how California has the opportunity to take bold steps to build an early learning and care system that addresses the foundations of systemic racism, racial equity, and economic justice. Read more below, and check back daily through January 29th for new updates.