The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Redlands-Riverside has made the past few weeks a bit more bearable for Karima Tarbah.
With schools in Redlands and across Southern California closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tarbah’s local Boys and Girls Club has provided her 11-year-old daughter, Khalila, myriad online activities to keep her entertained at home between distance learning sessions and evening routines.
“We made flan the other day,” Tarbah said, incredulously. “Who knows how to make flan? My daughter made flan.”
A single parent with asthma who has been out on disability since April, Tarbah, 52, is among the countless workers who will return to work this summer following temporary furloughs, work-from-home orders and other unique arrangements instituted by employers to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, the potentially lethal disease it causes.
But, with Southern California schools still closed and popular city- and school-sponsored summer programs shelved, working parents on the cusp of returning to normalcy now are scrambling to find child care providers in their area with room for their little ones.
“The need (for childcare) is there,” said Deborah Clark-Crews, executive director of Riverside Child Care County Consortium, a Moreno Valley-based nonprofit supporting high-quality, affordable and accessible child care programs. “I’m providing child care for two of my grandchildren because their mom is an essential worker. I’m actually enjoying it. I’m thrilled to have the ability in my position to do that, but many parents do not. … Taking care of kids while also doing your job is a difficult thing to do. This is a huge challenge for folks in this country.
“We understand there’s a crisis going on.”
Space is at a premium
Jill Perez, a Redlands mother of four who works in San Bernardino County’s Department of Preschool Services, has more questions than answers at this point.
With schools closed and her return to the office imminent, Perez is endeavoring to find somebody to watch her two youngest children for the bulk of the day. School has been her nominal child care between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday for much of the year, as it has been for every other working parent.
Now, with summer on the horizon, space at child care centers is at a premium and carries an additional cost to boot, Perez said.
“My concern is how are parents supposed to be returning to work if they have nowhere to send their children?” Perez added. “I’m frustrated that we’re supposed to go back to work but the people that provide care for our children are not.”
Child care and early education professionals in Los Angeles County already have warned of an increase in demand for services as the state eases stay-at-home orders in the coming weeks.
Keeshe Woods, executive director of the L.A. County Office of Education Head Start and Early Learning Division, said last month “the need for childcare may double or triple because many parents, particularly in our low-income communities, don’t have another resource and they’re dependent on schools in order to keep their family going.”
While some child care centers have remained open amid the coronavirus pandemic for youngsters of essential workers, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Redlands-Riverside is one of many providers in Southern California preparing to reopen in the coming weeks, albeit with reduced capacity and strict safety procedures in place to protect children, employees and parents.
But even the best-laid plans are subject to changes in state and county protocols.
“We’re taking everything on a day-to-day basis,” said Joy Juedes, development director for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Redlands-Riverside. “There’s nothing certain.”
Business is changing
Michigan-based Learning Care Group, a for-profit child care provider that operates 63 locations in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and other Southern California counties, had to close 20 schools in the region this spring due to the pandemic.
The company expects to reopen eight by the end of the month, though the sites will look drastically different than they did just two months ago.
Denise Olsen, an area manager for the early childhood education leader, said prior to the coronavirus outbreak, one Orange County location averaged 100 children per day.
Attendance has fallen to 33 since March.
The fallout from the pandemic “definitely is changing the way we do business,” Olsen said. “We have less children, less staff, more strict policies we’re enforcing. We do temperature checks as families arrive, we don’t allow any visitors past the lobby areas.
“We also have smaller (student-to-teacher) ratios,” Olsen added. “Where the state would allow 12 (students) with one teacher, we’re now doing no more than six children in one classroom.”
As child care centers across the region prepare to reopen amid an unprecedented public health crisis, personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves and cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes, bleach and soap are intrinsic to maintaining safe and healthy environments.
JoAnne Lauer, executive director of the Riverside County Office of Education’s Early Care and Education Division, said the county ships these essentials to providers so individuals in charge need not mine convenience stores on their own time.
In Redlands, the Rochford Foundation has donated masks for kids to wear while at the Boys and Girls Club, and additional safety measures such as marking 6 feet of space with tape on the floor and posting signs around the Clay Street facility reminding kids to wash their hands and practice social distancing have been taken to calm parents’ nerves.
These aren’t the daycare centers kids are used to, but at this time, they’re a lifeline for parents with precious few options.
“A hand in the middle of darkness,” is how Tarbah put it recently.
“I’m looking forward to being in a different place than home,” flan expert Khalila Tarbah said, “but still keeping my distance because I want people to be healthy.”
As working parents plot their return to the office, there are several ways to find nearby child care providers.
Lauer said Riverside County officials publish an updated list of providers with spots for essential workers on their website every Wednesday. Nearly 1,700 child care providers serving children from birth to age 13 work directly with the Riverside County Office of Education, Lauer said.
Child Care Resource Center, meanwhile, a nonprofit serving more than 50,000 children and families each month in northern Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, is providing parents free, personalized referrals to any of its 1,200 licensed family and child care providers.
Of course, working parents also can find local providers at mychildcare.ca.gov.
“Working from home and trying to take care of a toddler is difficult, beyond difficult,” Olsen said. “It’s tough trying to manage all the tasks of just being a parent. Add work onto that too and we’re definitely feeling good about ourselves because we’re able to offer a service to families and the community.
“The word is getting out that childcare is essential,” Olsen added. “Now we’re going to see that businesses cannot reopen unless parents have childcare so they can return to work.”
Source: Orange County Register