COVID Increases Childcare Challenges
DOVER-FOXCROFT – Childcare needs shifted rapidly in March as first, schools, and then many businesses, shut down due to COVID-19. Parents had to help more with children’s school work while also working from home themselves or putting in long hours at essential workplaces each day. Childcare centers faced shifting guidelines, as well as uncertain client numbers and income. As Maine businesses slowly reopen, guidelines, numbers of clients and amount of income remain in flux.
“I work as an administrative assistant for a company that runs the medical departments of five different county jails,” said Kelly Chabot, a single mother of four from Dover-Foxcroft. Xander, 10, lives with his father, who has underlying medical conditions, “so I am trying to minimize his exposure to keep his father safe,” she said. “I don’t even get to see my son.”
That leaves Xavier, 11; Kaliyah, 6; and Malachai, 1, still in need of childcare on work days, and help with schoolwork for the two oldest. “Life since COVID-19 has been crazy,” Chabot said. “The school shut down first, and then Xavier and Kaliyah’s daycare. I had to scramble to find somewhere for them to go, since I am an essential worker due to the fact that I process payroll and am considered support staff for our healthcare providers. I got lucky and Malachai’s daycare was able to take them on.”
The biggest challenge has been fitting distance learning into an already packed day. “By the time we get home, it’s supper and then baths and bed for the younger two,” said Chabot. “If I don’t stick to our normal schedule, mornings are a train wreck, especially with Kaliyah. Xavier, for the most part, can do his work on his own with little to no help from me. But I am finding it harder and harder to make time to help the kids.”
The saving grace has been her daycare. “I send school work in with Kaliyah and they help her with a couple of pages a day,” Chabot said.
The other way family life has changed is with safety concerns. “I don’t allow the kids into any stores, or honestly, out in public right now,” she said. “We get up, drop off at daycare, I come to work, get off work, pick them up from daycare, and then go back home. If I need anything from the store, I try to make it work before I pick them up, but with all the new rules regarding stores, it’s hard. I have a pickup time that I have to follow [at the daycare] or I am charged a late fee. It’s stressful and exhausting and scary.”
Jaime Lovejoy’s Daycare has been providing childcare in Dover-Foxcroft for 15 years, but none of them has been like 2020. Lovejoy typically tends to six to eight children ages 3 months to 10 or 11 years.
“When this first started and they closed the schools, I had to think about our daily routine. I knew that was going to change because there would be school work to do and that was going to have to be incorporated,” said Lovejoy, who immediately encouraged parents to send packets of school work into the daycare with their kids.
The number of children also shifted. There were more kiddos needing daycare with schools closed and businesses open so that parents had work – and then less in need of childcare when businesses closed and parents could be at home. Lovejoy has had two to four children most days during the shutdown. With businesses slowly starting to reopen, she expects that number will go back up soon.
Always a stickler for cleanliness, she said sanitization routines did not change much at the daycare to comply with state safety guidelines. “We always do handwashing, but we had to make sure the younger ones were taking the full 20 seconds and doing it property, so I found myself helping them more to make sure. And I’ve always made sure, when the kids put something in their mouths, that it gets washed right away.”
Most of Lovejoy’s essential worker families are in the healthcare field, so she trusts them to be aware of and practicing virus safety measures. Still, there have been concessions for safety in her household. Lovejoy’s husband has done all the shopping outside the home to minimize her exposure, and thus that of the children in her care. And recently, when an online order of new toys arrived, “I left it on the porch and got disposable wipes and wiped down the box and what was inside before I brought it into the house,” she said.
Adding school work to the daily routine hasn’t been “too bad,” said Lovejoy. “They do get distracted. You’re not going to sit there for three or four hours with them doing it, because you’ve got littler ones you’ve got to keep occupied while you help the older ones. I carve it out, two or three hours a day. We do some first thing in the morning. Then, if it’s a nice day we go outside for a little while, or if it’s rainy, I let them have free play for a little while. When I’m cooking lunch, I have them go back to the school work, and during naptime while the younger ones are sleeping. So we are not doing it all at once.”
With ages ranging from 1 to 8 these days, keeping everyone entertained can be a challenge, too – thus the online order of toys and games. Lovejoy went over options with the children and let them help pick which items to order.
As more parents return to work and more children arrive at the daycare, “I can definitely tell the kids missed each other,” said Lovejoy. “Watching them come through the door and interact with each other, you can tell they are all happy to see each other and play again. I think that’s been the hardest thing on most of the kids. When you have your routine and it gets changed and you don’t understand why it’s changed, that’s hard.”
Recently, out on a walk with her husband, Lovejoy saw a former daycare kiddo riding her bike. “We were on one sidewalk and she was on the other side and we talked. You could tell it was hard on her, too.”
And Lovejoy, who has stayed home throughout the bulk of the shutdown, has enjoyed starting to go out a bit more, as well. “I’ve been out here and there, for my own sanity,” she said, laughing.For information about Jaime Lovejoy’s Daycare, call 564-2831.