With the return to in-class instruction still up in the air for the 2020-21 school year and the growing possibility of a return to stricter shelter in place guidelines, many Sonoma County parents are left scratching their heads, worried and anxious, wondering what to do to meet child care needs this fall.
Local school districts are exploring various avenues of child care options, however, the hitch is, prices for after school care may go up, and services may be limited due to increased costs and the reality of living in a COVID-19 world.
Looking at options in west county
In a recent update from the Sebastopol Union Schools Superintendent Linda Irving, Irving said Castle Preschool & Child Care is working to provide limited child care this fall.
“We are also planning with Castle to provide limited, safe child care alongside these instructional models. We are engaging with our community to further support students in their off-campus hours,” Irving said in a video update on the district’s website.
On the other hand, Jeanne Sweet, a licensed Sonoma County daycare provider in Sebastopol, said she has been open throughout the entirety of the pandemic and has stayed open in order to provide child care for essential workers.
Liz Corbett of Castle said she is busy figuring out how the organization can support school district families with a complete reconfiguration of the program in mind.
For those in the river communities looking for child care options, River to Coast Children’s Services in Guerneville offers free referrals for parents.
“We have different referrals depending on their (parent’s) needs,” said Soledad Figueroa, the executive director of River to Coast. “They can call and tell us what they need and the age of the child and we’ll try to match providers with what they need.”
Parents can either call them directly at 707-869-3613, or visit the website at http://www.rccservices.org/index.html where folks can fill out and submit a questionnaire.
The organization also provides information on subsidized child care and can help connect parents to payment and subsidy options.
In addition to child care referrals, River to Coast also provides important family resources like diapers and food.
“We have resources for everyone as much as we can, especially now,” Figueroa said. “We are giving out food, diapers, formula and gas vouchers and supplies for providers (specifically cleaning supplies).”
Food and diapers are available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the River to Coast office at 16300 First St., Guerneville.
Exploring possibilities in Windsor
Lisa Saxon, the director of educational services for the Windsor Unified School District, said while they are still in the very early stages of looking at child care options, the district is in conversation with Extended Childcare (ECC) to consider a potential partnership for services.
Saxon said they are looking at the possibility of using ECC classrooms on school sites for child care, as well as classrooms at Windsor Creek Elementary School, which was shuttered last year.
“We are just looking at the logistics at this point, facilities, certification, cost per student, how we could subsidize it and what kind of meal sharing opportunities there may be,” Saxon said. “Nothing is solid at this point.”
She did say that there could be a huge cost increase depending on how many families want to send their child to after school care.
In a parent survey recently conducted by the district, around 19% of those surveyed indicated that they would not send their child to school, according to Saxon.
“Those indicated that it was less to do with child care and more of a health concern,” Saxon said. She said the district has not formally started asking parents how they feel about child care.
When The Windsor Times asked its readers on Facebook what their concerns are regarding child care, one Windsor parent, Rebecca Tysseling Squires, expressed concern that she may have to quit her job in order to look after her child if they are not at school more than three hours twice a week.
“We now have a teenage babysitter three hours, three times a week. But that won’t work once she’s (the babysitter) back in school. Parents are in an impossible position — no school/childcare, but we are expected to work normally as well as homeschool our kids,” Squires said.
She said she would likely send her kid to the ECC if adequate health measures are in place.
“I would likely send my kiddo to ECC if they were in small groups and allowed parents to group their kids together with friends who they know are also being careful,” Squires said.
Another parent said instead of child care, they will be able to adjust their work schedule so they can work at home.
Partnership prospects in Healdsburg
In Healdsburg, the After School Education and Safety program (ASES) may serve as a vehicle for partnering with the city for child care options. Through federal dollars that come through the California Department of Education, ASES is able to provide grants to districts with a high percentage of low-income students for child care services.
“We have traditionally provided... after school care (through ASES). Healdsburg has had ASES funding for many years. The grant is for both Healdsburg Elementary and for Healdsburg Junior High School,” said Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) director of curriculum and instruction, Erin Fender. “Most small school districts like ours partner with a community agency and so while HUSD is the recipient of the grant, we turn it around and have shifted a majority of those funds to the city of Healdsburg to run the after school programs.”
She added through COVID-19 there has been some loosening on how ASES money can be spent.
Fender noted, “So we quickly started engaging with the city in conversation weeks ago not only about the ASES program,” but also to discuss plans amid COVID-19.
Through ASES, they had opened briefly for essential worker child care at the Healdsburg Community Center. They made further plans for an additional ASES summer program, however, not many families were interested, so over the last few weeks the district has been discussing how they can roll over funds to be used for next year.
“What we are hoping to offer HUSD families in partnership with the city, is both after school childcare for the students who are able to be on campus, and kids on campus would still have the option to stay on campus and be provided after school care there through the city,” Fender said. “The grant is less than a quarter of what we would need to serve what we anticipate family need to be.”
Currently, there aren’t funds available to make the program free for families.
“The hitch is going to be while we have this partnership with the city for grades K-5, we don’t have the funds currently to make it free for every family,” she said.
Fender said the district and the city are working collaboratively to see if there will be any additional grant funds, fundraising and donations to assist with costs. She noted if you receive a free or reduced priced lunch it will be free or nearly free, however, if they are not able to get additional grants or donations, a sliding scale fee based on income will be implemented.
Melanie Dodson, the executive director for the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma (4Cs), said providers are trying to make after school and child care as affordable as possible, yet, it’s difficult to do so in COVID-19 world.
“The providers are trying to make it as affordable as possible, but to be able to pay their staff and all of their additional cleaning requirements they are seeing slightly increased costs. What I would say is that it is more like sending your child to a summer camp because it is a full day, full year type rate rather than a morning or afternoon program. Come the fall depending on what the schools do, they are going to much likely have to charge those full day rates,” Dodson said.
In terms of after school care for six to eighth grade students, Fender said the district is looking at the possibility of partnering with the local Boys & Girls Club.
“Kids go to the club after school, but there is no formal relationship between the school district and the club. We are likely going to be able to partner with the club during the day to host a teen club for our sixth, seventh and eighth grade families who need childcare options… during either full distance learning or on the alternate days that we cannot host them on campus,” Fender said.
She said they’ll likely use the ASES grant that previously went to the city to provide on-campus after school care at the junior high for the use of the Boys & Girls Club facilities for child care from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for six to eighth grade students.
Again with this scenario, the district will have to look for additional funds or donations to offset costs. She noted that the ASES grant amount is miniscule since the amount is based on pupil attendance and last year only 22 junior high students were in after school care.
In terms of where parents can go to find more information, Fender said families may start to see a blitz of information on child care from the district, the city and from the Boys & Girls Club in the next few weeks.
“Right now we are still trying to figure out funding and make formal agreements, sign memorandums of understanding between the two agencies,” Fender said.
While after school care plans are not yet set in stone, Fender said the district is working hard to figure out options for families.
“I’m a parent myself, I have a child who will be in the fifth grade and I understand for all parents that it’s a challenge. We know that families need help and we are desperately trying to make partnerships and figure it out,” Fender said.
Reopening in Cloverdale
When the Cloverdale Reveille asked its readers what their concerns are regarding child care, Jeanette Boehm responded and said her preschool, Cloverdale Eaglets Preschool & Daycare Center, will be opening soon for infants and after school care.
“We will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., full days or half days. I am also looking at ways to expand after school care as it looks like school age kids will need possible full time care. I have plenty of property on my school sight but with licensing closing during covid, I no longer have a reserve that I used to, but they are doing virtual licensing now and hopefully I will get the call soon,” Boehm wrote.
According to Boehm, there will be a slew of health protocols in place in order to make it a safe experience for kids.
“We will have small groups within our preschool with the same children on a daily basis, meaning they won't switch to different teachers. Toys and manipulatives will be washed and disinfected daily. During this pandemic we will be working extra hard on cleaning and disinfecting. With all the extra rules and regulations that covid has brought us we are implementing more job duties for our staff, safety for children is our first priority,” Boehm wrote.
As a child care provider for 10 years, she said she is ready to be here for Cloverdale.
“I am here for our wonderful city,” she wrote.
Parent Gina Berry said while her kids will definitely be in day care, she’s concerned that they may fall behind in school since she won’t be home to help them.
“As a two-parent full-time working household without the option to work from home (I work at two hospitals), both kids will be full time in daycare. There won't be much school happening in my house this fall . It worries me as my children are at risk of falling behind, but as the bills keep rolling in, I don't see how I can quit my job to homeschool them,” Berry said.
Parents who responded to the Facebook post also worried that care options will fill up fast.
One parent wrote, “A friend was watching my 2.5 year-old and was set to watch my 4-month-old starting this fall, but due to COVID-related issues she can’t anymore. Many open places are all full now as others are closing or parents need care they didn’t before. I’m the only parent with a job offering benefits so I have to go back but I’m not sure how right now with no childcare options, still searching.”
Dodson said out of 616 child care facilities, 181 already have no vacancies.
“Normally in Sonoma County in the 4Cs service area, we have 616 (child care) facilities. Currently 287, 47%, are closed. One hundred and eighty-one are open but have no vacancies. One hundred and forty-eight are open and they are currently enrolling,” Dodson said.
One reason centers are filling up quickly is due to the small class size that providers must adhere to under the COVID-19 restrictions.
“The reality is under the COVID-19 health orders, each of those centers or family child care centers, the maximum number of kids they can have in any group — usually in one room — is 12 children. Normally in the groups in a preschool classroom you’d have 24 to 32 children and you’d have three to four adults. Now, the same classroom can only serve 12 and that is true for the school age children as well,” Dodson explained.
Like River to Coast in west Sonoma County, 4Cs also provides referral services for parents.
“We work with all of the licensed facilities across the county, we do referrals for parents, so any parent can call 4Cs and get a list of programs that are open in their communities. Any parent can call us, it’s a free service. If they have a two-year-old or a 12-year-old, whatever age they are looking for, we can tell them what programs in their community have remained open and are part of the group that is currently excepting new slots. That is the easiest way for parents to get the information,” Dodson said.
To check out child care resources and updates, visit the 4’Cs Sonoma County website, which provides information on COVID-19 updates and resources, preschools, becoming a child care provider and more.