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Families Torn On How To Meet Child Care Needs During Pandemic

Many Ohio day cares have remained open for much of the pandemic, with protections in place to help limit the risk of an outbreak. Staff and children have to wear masks and wash their hands more frequently, many centers have taken additional steps to sanitize buildings, and the number of children in one room has been reduced.

But all that extra work doesn’t erase Northeast Ohio parents’ concerns about sending children to day care.

Cleveland resident Dominique Harris has been sending her 5-year-old son to a pre-kindergarten program this summer. The program is a few hours every day, Monday through Thursday, Harris said, but she doesn’t send her son on Mondays, which she hopes helps minimize the risk.

“He didn’t even go the first day, because I was not sold,” Harris said. “It was difficult because you know, it’s risky.”

The class is limited to six students and three teachers, Harris said, and no parents are allowed in the building. Those additional safety measures are reassuring, she said, but she still worries.

“I’m very stern with him when it comes to, don’t touch your mouth, don’t touch your face, keep your hands out of your mouth, don’t take this mask off,” Harris said.

Harris is currently unemployed because of the pandemic, she said, while her partner is an essential worker.

“If either one of us gets it, a lot is going to happen,” Harris said. “If his dad gets it, then he can’t go to work and he can’t provide.”

For Ohioans who rely on state funding to help cover day care costs, there are even more concerns. If they keep their kids home because of the pandemic, they could lose access to that care by the time they feel it’s safe to return.

Clevelander Kiara Lane sends her 2-year-old son to a day care program regularly, but she’s considering pulling him out once flu season hits.

“That’s terrifying,” Lane said. “It’s terrifying, and I still honestly haven’t made up my mind about how I would go about that.”

Lane isn’t sure if pulling her son out would affect the state vouchers that cover his care, she said. But she runs the risk of losing his spot in the day care center.

“With everything that’s going on, as bad as everything is, there’s really not much that could make me feel comfortable with him going back,” Lane said. “But it’s my only option as a single mother.”

Lane could keep him home since she’s working remotely, she said, but juggling his needs with other daily responsibilities is a struggle.

The Yeager family has worked to find ways to keep their children busy and active after deciding to forego their usual summer child care plans. [Angela Yeager]

Lane is hardly alone. Many local families are unexpectedly debating the merits of keeping children at home.

Lakewood resident and pastor Joanna D’Agostino kept her children with her at home all summer. Usually, she hires a live-in babysitter to help with summer child care, she said, but that didn’t happen this year.

“We had kind of originally hoped that we would still be able to do that this summer, but when it came down to it, we’re still not really seeing grandparents,” D’Agostino said. “It was really hard to justify hiring someone to bring into our home.”

As school starts, D’Agostino decided her youngest child will return to her church-run preschool. The program delayed its start until Sept. 16, and will be mostly remote for the first few weeks. It also won’t be taking 3-year-olds this year, D’Agostino said, with the changes coming after much debate among the parents and faculty.

“It’s the adults that are scared, and not always putting it all on the kids,” D’Agostino said. “We’re like, ‘What are we going to do about our kids?’ But it’s like, no, you can just admit that you’re the ones who are scared.”

For some families, the possibility of exposing their children to the virus in a day care is more risk than they’re willing to take on.

Nature educator Angela Yeager created a quarantine play group for her children. She shares a backyard with her neighbors, she said, and when the pandemic hit, they all decided to isolate as a group.

“We made a decision right at the beginning of the pandemic that there was no way to kind of share this backyard and quarantine, so we bubbled together,” Yeager said. “Which has been great for my kids’ mental health, that they’ve been able to have some socialization in all this.”

Play dates include wrestling, swimming in the family’s new pool and other activities to keep the kids occupied and happy. Yeager has redefined success for her family this summer, she said.

“Success is like, hey, no one got into big fights, we’re all fed, we all had a good day, we read at the end of the day, no one got sunburned, everyone is hydrated,” she said. “Really small goals.”

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