When talking about small businesses, daycares may not be the first that come to mind. Like many small businesses, those who provide child care services have struggled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute released the results of a survey among administrators and teachers working in early care and education. More than 2,100 responded to the survey, with 69 percent of child care centers and 44 percent of family care homes reporting “very high levels of stress related to the effects of COVID-19.”

According to the survey, 80 percent of providers reported that families are keeping children home, which has led to a loss of income and, in some cases, lay-offs.

“I’ve had to reduce my staff,”  Jill Wilkins, owner and director of Kangaroo Court said.

The child care center’s license allows Wilkins to have 45 children enrolled. Prior to COVID-19, she was at full capacity and had 11 employees.

“As of right now, I am alternating between about three staff members,” she said. “I plan to bring staff back as we get more of our children back.”

Wilkins had to close the center for about two weeks when direct health measures began going into effect. She reopened to operate under the 10 child limit, but rarely had eight kids. On May 4, the limit was increased to 15.

“We are around 13 kids now and are planning on filling all our spots,” she said. “We have four separate rooms so we can keep the kids separated safely.”

Two local in-home child care providers weren’t caring for more than 10 children to begin with, but they too have felt the impacts. Meranda Powers, owner and operator of Kid’s Power Daycare, had a limit of 10 children but typically cared for eight. Kimberly Watson, owner and director of The Village, usually has six kids.

Of the original children who were enrolled at Kid’s Power, seven are still there including two of Powers’ own children.

“I have since started two new kids, due to their daycares being closed for an extended time,” said Powers. “I agreed to take them on because they were in need of daycare and I had the available spots.”

Watson has not accepted new children as a precaution.

“With parents working from home some days, they will just keep them at home,” said Watson. “So I’m not sure from day to day what kids, if any, I will have.”

Many children have completely lost their usual routines, which has been an adjustment for them, parents and providers.

“Because the children are home and they’re seeing parents at home, it has thrown off their schedules,” said Watson. “(Children) are having to go through these changes without truly understanding.”

To add to the confusion that little ones may be feeling because of COVID-19, daycare now consists of more hand washing and sanitizing than ever.

“We’re taking every step to follow the guidelines imposed,” said Wilkins. “Rather than allowing parents to enter the building, staff is greeting parents at the car to get the child.”

Each child is given hand sanitizer and has their temperature checked before entering Kangaroo Court, and then temperatures are checked and logged hourly. If a child shows any signs of not feeling well, they’re sent home immediately.

For childcare providers across the state, things have been getting tighter and tighter.

On April 15, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed an executive order suspending some state regulations regarding the Child Care Subsidy Program. One of the changes allows for providers to continue billing the child care subsidy for children who typically attended but were being kept home.

“Having the governor sign an executive order that we can still charge our subsidy even if the children are not in attendance has helped significantly,” said Wilkins.

In the beginning, Powers was being asked multiple times a day if she’d be able to remain open from worried parents. As she’s continued to care for their children, they’ve done what they can to help her out by dropping off extra cleaning supplies.

“I’ve had one family bring in toilet paper,” Powers said.

Watson and Wilkins also spoke highly of the families they serve and the support those families have offered. Watson said that in a time of so much fear and uncertainty, it’s important to support one another.

“I had some parents scared of so many things,” said Watson. “It’s important for me to just let them know we are all in this together and if they just need a shoulder to lean on, I’m here.”

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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