Masks, Smaller Classes And No Hugs: What Child Care Looks Like Right Now
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What will child care look like in the age of social distancing? Recently reopened child care centers in Long Beach might have the answer.
Staff in masks, face shields and coveralls greeted essential worker parents and 55 kids at two of the five Young Horizons Child Development Centers locations starting at 7 a.m. Monday.
"I was very relieved to see happy children, happy faces," said the center's executive director, Sarah Soriano.
Inside, kids wearing cloth and fabric masks sat at opposite ends of rectangular tables and played in taped-off squares on the floor.
The day started with a lesson on social distancing.
"No more hugs, no more high fives," teacher Nancy Ramirez told her young students as they sat, at least six feet apart. "Now we can wave, or bow. We have to do this to keep the germs away."
The center had to make drastic changes to reopen. Here are some of the new rules:
- Staff ask questions about each child's health and check their temperature before they enter
- Classrooms are limited to 10 children and three staff members
- Meals are distributed in single-use, single-serve containers.
- Bathrooms are sanitized after use by each child
- Staff wear masks and children are encouraged to do so as well
RELIEF FOR PARENTS
When Diane Aguilera answered the phone Wednesday and a Young Horizons staffer told her the center would be reopening for essential workers, she felt one thing -- relief.
"I was just smiling," Aguilera said. "I got to breathe."
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She lives in Long Beach and works as a social worker and nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility in Huntington Beach. After the day care center closed in March, friends and family took turns watching Aguilera's 2-year-old daughter, Leilani.
"It was hard because every day she would see a new face," she said. "She didn't want to stay. She cried."
It also meant Aguilera was driving as far as Compton for child care.
Aguilera works with patients who have COVID-19, so she'd also stop at home to shower before picking up her daughter.
She says she appreciates the new safety measures at the center, like having the children wear masks and checking for fevers.
And Leilani was so excited to come back to Young Horizons that she started wearing her backpack on Sunday.
"She was like 'Teacher?' and I was like, 'Yes, tomorrow.'"
NEW SAFETY RULES
The majority of L.A. County's child care centers, 66%, had closed as of April 23, according to the California Department of Social Services. Young Horizons shut its doors on March 18.
"One of the biggest deciding factors is that we could not find the basics," said executive director Soriano. Bread, paper towels and toilet paper weren't available from her usual suppliers or nearby stores.
It's still difficult to find supplies, but Soriano was only able to buy one 100-count box of disposable masks and 10 sets of white coveralls for staff greeting parents and students at the door.
The professional cleaning company she hired to sanitize the centers donated a handful of plastic face shields.
Local child care referral agencies are in charge of distributing $50 million from the state for providers to purchase supplies.
Soriano says the center's new policies are based on guidance issued by the Department of Social Services, which licenses child care centers. The L.A. County Department of Public Health also has guidelines.
To encourage children to stay at least 6 feet apart, tables that once held up to eight kids now have two seats and each child has a resealable plastic bag of toys for their individual use.
There are no more family-style meals where a bowl of fruit might be passed from person to person. Instead there are 2- and 4-ounce plastic cups for each child.
Parents are asked to outfit children ages 3 and up with masks, but as anyone who's spent time around little kids knows, potentially itchy and uncomfortable masks can be a tough sell.
"We are not going to force a child who is absolutely adamant, who does not want to wear their mask, to wear their mask," Soriano said. Teachers are already thinking about how to make it a game like, "try to guess if I'm smiling? Or "can you see if I'm sad?"
Each classroom is limited to 10 children (the ratio for infants is lower -- four per room). At Young Horizons, there will be three adults with each group of kids and no mixing between the different groups.
L.A. County essential worker parents can go online or call a hotline, 888-922-4453 (888-92CHILD), to connect to an agency that will help them find child care.
Young Horizons typically enrolls about 400 children, but Soriano said with the existing guidance it would be impossible to welcome everyone back. The center offered the first round of child care slots to families who work in essential services like health care, grocery stores and at banks.
"We have the social distancing and the six feet apart and the masks and everything because of the guidance that's been given," Soriano said. "So unless they change that, we can't receive more children."
LAist's Chava Sanchez contributed to this story.