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Child Care in Virginia Complicated by Coronavirus

Child sharing toy
(Photo: Bill Kasman/Pixabay)

Many child care centers in Virginia have remained open and are serving families during the coronavirus outbreak. Hundreds of licensed child care providers have closed. Some say guidance from the state leaves a lot open to interpretation regarding how providers should respond.

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam ordered all K-12 schools in Virginia to close for at least two weeks until further notice. The order did not include most child care facilities. This means many parents who are working through the pandemic are still dropping their kids off at daycare. 

Providers have, instead, been asked to limit the number of adults and children in a room to 10 and serve meals in the classroom. Parents are encouraged to keep their kids at home, if they’re not themselves “essential personnel.”

“It just still leaves a lot open to interpretation and gray areas,” said Emily Griffey, policy director at Voices for Virginia’s Children. 

Griffey said there are many unanswered questions, including: how providers should properly separate kids? Who is considered "essential personnel?" And why is the state treating child care differently when schools are closed? 

“We do not think we can unilaterally close childcare,” said Jenna Conway, Virginia’s chief school readiness officer during a state-level call with child care providers.  “Rather, what we’re proposing is a real focus on keeping child care open, particularly for the children of our essential personnel.”

Conway said that’s broadly defined as healthcare workers, first responders, and some other public and private employees that enable society to function. Health officials say that definition is still being fine tuned.

On Friday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced a partnership with the YMCA to open an emergency childcare center, specifically for medical personnel in the city. 

“None of the essential workforce should have to choose between knowing their kids are safe and keeping our community running,” Stoney said.

These measures are taken as hundreds of licensed childcare facilities across the state close. 

The Children’s Center in Western Tidewater shut its doors last week after Northam declared a state of emergency. 

Executive Director Rosalind Cutchins said social distancing is not practical with an infant or toddler.

“We at least interpret the guidance as being, it is critical to social distance. Do not put your children, your families, nor your staff members at risk,” Cutchins said. 

 But she said she understands why many day cares across the state have remained open.

“Child care personnel and child care organizations are now being seen as critically important to keeping our essential personnel working,” Cutchins said. “ It is tremendously difficult to make that decision.”

Child care for nearly 25,000 children in Virginia is subsidized by the state and federal government through the Child Care Subsidy Program. State officials say that program will continue through the duration of the coronavirus outbreak and has even been expanded.  

Children designated for part-day services are now eligible for full-day care. The number of days providers can still be paid even when a child is absent has been increased from 36 to 76 days. And some families’ eligibility for the program will be automatically renewed.   

The Department of Social Services said providers will not continue to receive subsidy payments if they decide to close and parents are being asked to notify the DSS each day their child is absent by calling the department’s automated phone line. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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