With new health and safety measures being issued daily regarding the novel 2019 coronavirus, the child care industry in Montana is working to adapt.
As schools close their doors and switch to online platforms, some may expect child care providers to be inundated with families needing more services. Choteau resident Heather McCartney-Duty with Family Connections Montana says for right now at least, they’re seeing the opposite.
“In the short term, we’re seeing two things. Child care centers are closing either for the safety of their employees who may be older, or families are pulling their kids out and keeping them at home,” she explained. “If I were to predict for the long term, however, I would say families will need a lot more support in the future.”
McCartney-Duty said licensed child care facilities already go through rigorous health and safety protocol, but they are increasing certain measures they already take to avoid the spread of germs. For example, they will ask parents to sign in at an external location with their own pen, and the children will leave their coats on a rack outside of the main daycare room and will be taken to wash their hands regularly throughout the day.
Family Connections Montana is a nonprofit that works to help connect all families with child care providers. The nonprofit is also offering a special “guardian program” specifically for essential workers in controlling coronavirus — including emergency medical services, medical staff, military, police, utility workers and grocery store staff. With this program, essential workers will be given priority in finding childcare so they can continue to go to work and keep others safe and healthy. Families looking for services or providers looking for resources can call 761-6010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rose Carlson teaches Spanish and music at Choteau Public Schools. With the school transitioning to online classes, she said she feels she has more time for her kids, both her students and her two elementary-age daughters.
“I’ve been able to do most of my work in the morning before my kids wake up. And my kids are really easy, where I can put them down with an art project or a book and they will stay busy and quiet for about an hour,” she said.
Carlson uses Google Classroom to message her students and send them assignments. She also sends YouTube video links with fun songs to inspire her music students to keep singing. She said both her students and her daughters have enjoyed the extra screen time they get when doing their school work.
“I’m very old school, so my kids used to get zero screen time, and I usually didn’t do screen time in the classroom. They’re all excited,” she said.
Her daughters also love the opportunity to sleep in a bit and the extra time they get with mom. Carlson said while she’s working from home, she doesn’t expect to need any additional child care help.
“I never thought of myself as doing homeschool, but doing it for just a couple of weeks has been really nice,” she said. “We’re doing projects we never used to have time for. Brian (her husband) was sitting down with the girls the other day tying knots with them, and we’ve been cooking a lot. We’re just catching up on life.”
Dani Arps is a mother of two young children in Choteau who works full-time at First Bank of Montana. She said the transition of her kindergartener and third grader being home all the time for web-based schooling has been “overwhelming” but she’s thankful for the support she has.
“Everything has changed. … I’ve gotten so many emails and texts from teachers setting everything up,” said Arps. “My son has an IEP (individualized education program) for autism, and I don’t think I realized how many professionals meet with him on a weekly basis. I’ve had so many contacts from speech pathology, behavior psychology and his classroom teachers reaching out to me with links and resources for him.”
Right now, Arps has a friend who can take care of her children during the day.
“Daycares having to close with this virus, it’s not an easy decision. I feel for them. … Child care in Choteau has probably been the most difficult part of living here, but there’s still lots of people reaching out,” Arps said.
She said her employer has also been very supportive.
“I’m lucky because I have an awesome employer. They’ve been very flexible, even before [the coronavirus]. If I need to run and do something for my kids with the school or I need to call out when they’re ill, they always make it work. I can’t complain because I have around two dozen friends who are out of work right now,” she said.
Her children’s biggest struggle in adapting to their new routine isn’t using the computer; they simply miss their friends.
“The kids aren’t getting social interaction right now, and you know when siblings are stuck with each other all the time, there’s fighting. It makes it hard for them to focus,” she said. “My son doesn’t understand why he can’t see his friends or even have a play date. Trying to explain it in terms of a pandemic scares him. We have to try not to scare kids but let them know we’re informed and that there’s a reason behind all these changes.”
In the meantime, Arps said parents, teachers and community members are coming together their new situation work as smoothly as possible. Teachers are being flexible with deadlines and using communicating with families on a variety of platforms. Community members are offering tutoring help on different subjects. Parents are babysitting each other’s kids when one parent has an obligation to attend to.
“I’m really surprised at the system of support with parents, the community, schools all supporting each other. Nobody’s said no to helping, nobody’s scared to reach out and ask for help. That’s one of the reasons I moved back here, I wanted to raise my kids in a community like this,” Arps concluded.
Editor’s note: This story was written on March 23. Changes in the present coronavirus situation may have occurred by the time this story is published and distributed on March 25.