Navigating child care over the past year has been a challenge for every parent.
For those teleworking, the workday was disrupted by Zoom school, lunches, meltdowns and more, while for others, new restrictions and rules for attending daycares were an abrupt change.
Now that vaccination rates and restrictions are being lifted, many parents feel it’s safe to begin using child care facilities again. Mia Čubrilo, a teacher and program coordinator at Choo Choo Chicago located in the city, says during the height of the pandemic she saw lower enrollment, but that number is now going up.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were at 100% enrollment and we had a waiting list, and right now it’s not like that,” Čubrilo says. “It’s at 90% enrollment now, which is fine, but it’s difficult to find new families. People are holding back and there’s a lot of fear.”
She says it’s been a struggle to attract new families to the small, in-home daycare despite following a robust cleaning schedule and implementing their own COVID-19 safety practices in addition to the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines.
Meanwhile, even splitting child care among parents at home isn’t always easy. Liz Hernandez, a mom of three — 8-year-old-twins Sophia and Victoria and 5-year-old Gabriel — from Sterling Heights, says at the height of the pandemic, teleworking was “very difficult.”
“I became 100% remote when COVID hit,” Hernandez says. “My daughters had 100% virtual learning and April through July 2020 was intense.”
“My husband, Jose, was laid off and childcare was closed,” she adds. “All five of us were at home and on top of each other.”
Hernandez says her son now attends an in-home daycare five days a week and the twins stay home when they’re not in school. Sometimes, they go to daycare, too, but only once or twice a month.
Choosing Child Care
When it comes to choosing a childcare facility, Hernandez says she prefers one that is “very small or in a home setting with temperatures taken daily at the door — it limits exposure and is easier to disinfect regularly.”
“I enjoy the sense of family we get from our in-home daycare, but I wish I could send my older children regularly,” she adds. “It’s difficult to telework while keeping them engaged in an activity and relatively quiet.”
For families looking for a child care facility today, Čubrilo says they should absolutely visit the center while care is taking place.
“It’s really important to see the space when its in session and when the kids are interacting with the teacher to get a full picture,” Čubrilo says. “Don’t base the quality on the price — it doesn’t mean that a cheaper center is worse versus the more expensive one.”
“Look at the teachers and decide what you as a family want,” she adds. “If you want a corporate center with cameras and a straight cut feeling, then find that, or, do you want more of a mom and pop small business with more heart, and more community?”
Čubrilo has an extensive presentation she gives to prospective parents on the center’s day-to-day operations. She explains the type of care and activities the children will receive so that parents can decide if that’s the type of environment they’re looking for.
“Know what your expectations are,” Čubrilo says. “What do you want day to day? Do you want it to be fun, for them to engage with friends and play? Or do you want them to write their names, and make it more academic? Just find that philosophy that aligns with your schedule and beliefs.”
As for finding a center that will keep children safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Čubrilo says families can start by making sure the center is following current CDC guidelines for operating child care programs.
Parents weighing different COVID precautions should know that one of the biggest differences Čubrilo saw in stopping the spread of the virus was keeping kids home when they were sick.
“That is what really kept us safe — a more strict sick policy,” she says. “That’s what kept us going.”
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