Working from home during COVID-19 just might free up childcare spaces as lockdown eases - InfoNews

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Working from home during COVID-19 just might free up childcare spaces as lockdown eases

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May 05, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Opening up the economy in the coming weeks will depend, in part, on having functioning childcare facilities, which were overburdened in the Central Okanagan before the COVID-19 lockdown began.

And, while it will be “challenging” to make the required changes to allow parents to return to work, the bright side is that many parents might convince their employers that they can work from home and look after their own children.

“Some of the moms that I connect with, they appreciated spending more time with their children and they might miss that a bit,” Melissa Hunt, executive director of Childhood Connections told “Maybe, they’ll be requesting some reduced hours and making up hours at home as needed and not leaning on childcare as much.”

Childhood Connections is the organization that oversees childcare in the region and was instrumental in helping operators make changes to the way facilities operated in order to make them safer during the pandemic.

The childcare world was flipped on its head when safe distancing rules were put in place in mid-March to control the spread of COVID-19.

Before that time, 40 per cent of families in the Central Okanagan could not get the child care they needed, Hunt said.

Then, suddenly, parents were either laid off as businesses closed or they were asked to work from home. They were assured that they would not lose their childcare spaces so many opted to adjust to having children around – and many liked that experience.

Seventy-per cent of the region’s childcare facilities stayed open, many to provide spaces for essential services workers. That included 76 childcare facilities and 36-38 licenced childcares in homes.

It also meant adjusting to the needs of front line health care workers who needed overnight care for their children. In the past, there was a nanny service where workers went into people’s homes overnight to keep an eye on the children.

But that ended with the pandemic so some in-home providers took workers’ children into their homes, Hunt said. Those kinds of overnight options may become more common.

“It’s something that has been on the back burner for our childcare council for some time to look at options and this kind of made it come to the forefront,” Hunt said.

Now, as the world is getting ready to re-open, a new juggling act is about to begin.

Front line health care workers were given priority for childcare spaces during the lockdown but, that was only a temporary accommodation. Parents have guaranteed positions for their children to return to so children of essential service workers could get bumped.

“It is going to be a challenge,” Hunt said. “We did have a childcare provider phone us and say they got a call from their former parent – still their parent because they weren’t allowed to give up their space. The parent is now saying ‘I think I’m going to be going back to work in mid-May and, potentially, the schools might be re-opening so I’m going to need some space for my three-year-old.’ But now this particular childcare program is full with essential service workers.”

That’s why Hunt is hoping employers will be accommodating and allow more parents to work from home and free up childcare spaces.

“I’m thinking that’s where we’ll see a decrease, in the after school care – the 2:30 to 6 o’clock time slot,” Hunt said. “I think you’ll see more parents saying, ‘you know, I have children and my day ends at that time and I’ll make up some of those hours in the evening.’ I think some employees were able to demonstrate that they could balance their workload with parenting.”

The other challenge facing childcare facilities it being able to operate and still maintain safe distancing and cleaning standards.

With reduced numbers in many programs right now, that’s a little easier to do but, as facilities start to fill up again, that will be more challenging.

To review the Public Health Guidelines for Childcare Facilities, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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