REGION — As an incentive for daycares and preschools to reopen, providers will receive a second round of grant money from the CARES Act. Childcare providers are still trying to regain their enrollment numbers while spending more money on sanitary products and preparing for challenges posed by schools reopening.

In May, childcare providers received a federal stipend based on their maximum capacity. In late March and May, many providers either closed or limited their services to parents that were essential workers, drastically reducing enrollment numbers.

Jen Hobbs who runs the Kids R Kids Daycare Center in Livermore Falls said her enrollment in March went down to a third of her typical 12 kids which resulted in layoffs.

“Originally, I had three employees so I did have to lay three off, and I kept one full-time with myself,” Hobbs said in a phone interview.

Since reopening in June, Jessica Lewis, owner of Inch by Inch Preschool in Wilton has ramped-up her outdoor programming to decrease the amount of time spent sanitizing her childcare center. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lewis

The one employee she was able to maintain through the stipend and later with Cares Act funding was crucial to her ability to spend extra time looking for disinfectant supplies. Hobbs said that shopping for items such as Clorox and Lysol wipes is like a hunt due to purchase limits and their lack of availability.

Christine Fournier who runs Crayon Country Preschool in Jay said that the cost of cleaning supplies keeps increasing as she finds that often only name brands are available. Fournier said that she spends more time searching different stores for available products and has struggled with the purchase limits. As she follows CDC recommendations, she is going through significantly more products.

“On a weekly basis, I am going through a can of Lysol alone plus the Clorox wipes,” Fournier said in a phone interview.

Daycare providers have been limiting the number of toys available to children and pushing for more playtime outside to help counter this challenge.

“If one good thing came out of all this, it really pushed us to that next level of figuring out how to spend as much time as possible outside and our parents are super supportive of that,” Jessica Lewis, owner of Inch by Inch Preschool in Wilton, said in a phone interview. “I am hoping that the public schools will consider that some too, because it’s safer out there, and it’s far less work for us as far as sanitizing extra toys and tables and chairs all day long.” 

Daycare providers are also facing the extra step of taking temperature screenings as kids are dropped off. Hobbs set up her garage to check children’s temperatures and does not let parents in beyond that point.

“Most parents are understanding,” Hobbs said. “I’ve had some get pretty upset with me because I turn them away at the door because their [kid’s] temperature is a little high or they’re just coughing.”

Now that enrollment numbers are increasing as these daycare providers expand their services beyond essential workers, they’re anticipating more challenges as schools reopen. Lewis expects that some of her current preschoolers will not go into kindergarten, but instead, stay with her for an extra year as parents consider homeschooling.

Many childcare providers such as Jessica Lewis of Inch by Inch Preschool in Wilton, are organizing individual toy sets in trays for children to prevent cross-contact. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lewis

The RSU 9 school board will make a decision on a plan for reopening schools on August 11, and RSU 73 will make a decision on August 6. Lewis foresees the proposal of a rotating schedule causing complications for businesses such as hers.

“For childcare providers, those types of schedules aren’t going to work for their children to come to us on their off days because we can’t be switching everybody’s schedule every single week,” Lewis said. “I hope there’s a lot of schedule consistency.”

Hobbs has already informed parents that she cannot offer homeschooling-type services if schools transition to remote learning with her current staffing.

“I can’t do that,” Hobbs said. “I would have to sit there the whole time and monitor them.”

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