As the COVID-19 outbreak widens, so has the child care crisis in Spokane and the rest of the state.
The irony is that many parents have been laid off because of business closures linked to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate on social distancing – and now those same restrictions are preventing schools from adding day-care facilities, or even maintaining current programs such as Express.
“It really is hard, because we are trying to balance social distancing to keep people safe,” Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said Thursday.
The district rolled out its first two day care sites on Wednesday at Finch and Lincoln Heights elementary schools.
“Our goal is to continue to expand that daily,” said Redinger, who had to offer a caveat: priority is for children of first responders and medical personnel.
The current week has been earmarked for planning, said Redinger.
On the plus side, demand isn’t as great as feared, partly because many children are being watched by older siblings and because parents are home because they’ve lost jobs or hours.
However, having children at home also makes it more difficult to seek other employment.
And while existing facilities have been exempted from Inslee’s limit of 50 people per site, nearly all are full and some have waiting lists.
Washington officials are urging those providers to stay open amid statewide school closures prompted by the pandemic.
Other facilities, such as the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, can accommodate a maximum of 24 children up to 12 years old.
Redinger said she’s encouraged by the number of district and school staff who have offered to volunteer. However, those potential caregivers must have first aid and CPR training and undergo background checks.
The problem is particularly acute in low-income neighborhoods.
At the Northeast Community Center, “We are very willing to have pods of kids,” said Amber Waldref, director of the Zone Project, a nonprofit that works with the city and community organizations and business to improve lives in northeast Spokane.
“However, how does all that get organized, and where do you get enough qualified child-care workers who are willing to work?” Waldref said.
After the school shutdown, many homes are in summer mode, with older children managing their younger siblings while parents are at work.
“That becomes the default, but it doesn’t allow a lot of learning to occur,” Waldref said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.