Child Care During COVID-19: Making Sure Children Stay Safe

Parents and providers can work together to create safe and enriching environments for children amid the pandemic.

At-Home Learning is an early childhood education resource (for ages 2-8) providing families, educators and community partners with at-home learning activities, guides, and expert advice.

The pandemic may have taken away many freedoms that children once enjoyed, such as sharing books and playing tag with classmates, but there are still safe ways for children to enjoy their time spent outside and with child care providers. For many families who must work outside of the home, it can be difficult to find child care and trust that providers will protect their children from COVID-19. With open communication and collaboration, parents and providers can work together to create safe and enriching environments for children.

What Child Care Centers Are Doing

Little Flowers Family Child Care has created individual work stations for each child. | Courtesy of Yessika Magdaleno

Child care centers are amping up their sanitary procedures as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in California with thousands of positive cases reported each day by the state government. Facilities are currently implementing their own procedures that align with the new standards of care set by the Center of Disease and Control (CDC), and other local health agencies.

When it comes to training staff members and following up with new requirements, Lee Allton, the owner of Helping Hands Family Day Care in Westminster, prefers the standards put out by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOsha).

“CDC guidelines can be a little confusing,” says Allton, who is also the president of the Orange County Child Care Association. CalOsha provides child care providers and parents with specific information, such as cleaning materials that must be used, guides on how to receive and drop off children, and new rules for meal prepping.

Under the latest standards, child care centers are required to arrange children into small groups or to section off play areas for each individual child, if possible. This helps to enforce a 6-foot space between everyone and to prevent close physical contact.

Child care centers are sectioning off play areas for each individual child when possible. | Courtesy of Lee Allton

Additionally, children who are 2-years-old and older are required to wear masks whenever they are indoors. Children and staff must also complete a symptoms checklist before entering a care center and temperatures are checked with a thermometer throughout the day to detect any sudden fevers.

Some providers have been able to invest in hands-free products, such as motion sensor trash cans, to avoid increasing the chance of spreading germs. Staff are also required to continually sanitize and disinfect toys and surfaces all through the day. And, as expected everywhere, children and adults must frequently wash their hands for 20 seconds.

Tips From Child Care Providers

Children hold the same responsibility as their parents in preventing the spread of the virus, especially if they often leave their home and share spaces with other people. It is important that they are informed about what COVID-19 is and why these safety precautions are put in place.

Yessika Magdaleno, a provider at Little Flowers Family Child Care in Garden Grove, recommends that parents be patient with their young ones and explain in ways that they can understand. It also helps to frequently have these conversations so that they can become familiar with the rules.

At her facility, she makes sure to use terms that do not make the children too scared or anxious. “We tell them we are facing this little animal that wants to get into our body and make us sick,” she says.

Caretakers also suggest having colorful and unique face masks to make wearing it exciting for children. They’ve found it helpful to make hygiene and wearing masks fun by using games, incentives and songs, especially for those that tend to forget or don’t like following the rules.

Caretakers also suggest having colorful and unique face masks to make wearing it exciting for children. | Courtesy of Lee Allton

“You tell a 2-year-old to not pick their nose. I dare you,” Allton says. As a caretaker, Allton is always on high alert for any face touching or breaks from social distancing. Whenever she catches a child doing just that, she’ll sing out loud: “Hands in the air, hands in the air like you just don’t care,” as she leads them to the sink. She’ll then stay with them to make sure they’re washing their hands while singing the ABCs.

Care providers also urge parents to practice clean habits at home and to wear masks whenever they go out to run errands. Parents are their children’s best role models. If children see their mom or dad washing their hands to a song and cleaning their belongings after using them, they’re more likely to follow in their lead.

Not only will consistency help with developing a habit in children, it will also benefit the people that they come into contact with.

“We have to work together,” Magdaleno says about parents and caregivers. “If the parents get sick, then we all face the consequences. It’s important we all have good communication with parents because they are not only exposing themselves, but also the kids in the day care, other parents and the provider.”

Children and staff must also complete a symptoms checklist and take protective measures before entering Helping Hands Family Day Care. | Courtesy of Lee Allton

For parents who have difficulty in getting sanitizing products and face masks due to economic reasons or scarcity in their community, they can reach out to their child care center.

“Licensed child care providers know there are resources for products. If a parent cannot afford products needed, it seems reasonable to ask the provider if they can provide it,” Allton says, referring to organizations, such as Early Childhood OC, which provides stipends and supplies for providers in need.

Questions to Ask Child Care Centers

For parents who are looking into enrolling their child into a daycare during this time, it is important to confirm that everyone is on the same page. It is both the parent’s and care provider’s duty to make sure that health is a top priority and that safety standards are being met.

Some questions parents should ask care facilities to find the best fit for their child, according to providers, are:

  • Did anyone in your family or the people you live with have COVID-19?
  • Do you and the people you live with follow social distancing guidelines?
  • What is the plan when my child or someone at the daycare gets COVID-19 or has symptoms of the virus?
  • Do you have a contract or written policy of your procedures?
  • How are you caring for children emotionally during these times?
  • Are you wearing gloves when meal prepping?
  • What disinfectant are you using? And how often?
  • How can I as a parent help you and support your facility?

Providers recommend that parents read COVID-19 standards for child care — some of which can be found in different languages on the Community Care Licensing online page. Parents should set up a virtual meeting with the potential caregivers to ensure that they are following the updated requirements and to square away any concerns.

Having an open dialogue is just as important as following coronavirus guidelines. As everyone works together, the gloomy days of the pandemic will eventually start to clear up and our former freedoms will bloom again. But for now, keeping loved ones safe and aware is the first step.