As Virginia starts to slowly reopen and many people return to work, parents are finding themselves limited in childcare options.
In Gov. Ralph Northam’s Phase 1 reopening plan, childcare facilities have been a priority to remain open for working families. But as Northam continues to limit gatherings of people to fewer than 10, many childcare facilities are having to limit the amount of children they’re caring for.
“It’s a dilemma really,” said Deborah Gransbury, district manager for Learning Care Group’s Hampton Roads market. “Now we have parents who are ready to resume work and need care but have to go on a waitlist because we don’t have the availability.”
Learning Care Group is the parent company for La Petite Academy, a daycare facility in Williamsburg.
Gransbury said while facilities like La Petite Academy have remained open during the pandemic to provide care for essential workers, there have already been space limitations to accept children.
Part of the issue? The state requires a certain caregiver-to-child ratio for various age groups. While younger ages such as zero-to-16 months require a 1-to-4 ratio, school age children up to 8 years old require a ratio of 1-to-18.
To address those restrictions, facilities in the Learning Care Group have split the age groups into two groups of nine with one designated caregiver each. The groups function in divided classrooms that help keep them separate.
But a recent letter from the Virginia Childcare Association is requesting Northam to increase group sizes for childcare facilities to 15. If that were the case, Learning Care Group’s current system would then be limited even more because the two classes couldn’t be combined in the divided classrooms because there isn’t enough space.
Care facilities are also finding themselves limited on the amount of staff they have.
When the pandemic first hit, Learning Care Group said many daycare programs had to furlough a number of their workers but now that their unemployment benefits outweigh what they would be making if they returned, many employees have decided to wait.
At LeaRN Lily, a child development center in Williamsburg, the problem is heightened even more because as a medical daycare, employees with even more specific skills are needed, said Judy Bradby, owner and director.
LeaRN Lily cares for children who need medical supervision, such as those who use feeding tubes, which means the facility is staffed with registered nurses such as Bradby. But when the pandemic hit, 50 percent of the children who had regularly attended the daycare stayed at home either because their parents were nervous of exposure or because they lost their job.
The daycare has taken extra precautions to sanitize the facility, screen children for symptoms before entering and keep children distant from each other. As these new procedures continue, Bradby said she noticed that other illnesses started disappearing as well.
“We’ve stayed strong throughout this whole thing, we’re at zero illness,” she said. “We’ve had less illness throughout this period than ever, normally there’s someone with a fever or diarrhea, but since we’ve implemented this new system there’s no sickness at all so we plan to keep it this way.”
Bradby said while many of the children are immunocompromised, parents feel safe knowing the facilities are cleaned and monitored thoroughly.
But LeaRN Lily is the only medical daycare in Williamsburg and as more parents go back to work and need daycare, those with children who have medical needs are more limited than ever.
The facility has maintained groups smaller than 10 easily as many people left when the pandemic hit. As parents start to return and seek care, Bradby said they’re going to have a difficult time providing the availability and will have to place children on a waitlist.
While LeaRN Lily also cares for healthy, able-bodied children, Bradby said she’s going to prioritize children who need medical assistance because they have nowhere else to go.
“We have amazing people who have stuck it out on the forefront,” Gransbury said. “And while childcare providers aren’t typically considered essential, they deserve recognition.”
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