As New Jersey moves into Stage 2 of its novel coronavirus recovery, many families will be returning to work and faced with the decision of whether or not to send their children back to child care. Emergency child care centers have been open since April 1st to support the essential workforce, and now, Governor Murphy has announced that all licensed child care centers can reopen June 15th, as long as they comply with additional standards that support the well-being of the child care staff, children and families they serve.
Choosing child care is one of the most important decisions a parent will make, and research has indicated that children’s healthy development depends on safe and positive experiences during the first few years of life. One of the most basic, yet critical indicators of a quality child care program is whether they adhere to the requirements enforced by the State. Effective June 15th, licensed child care centers will be required to comply with additional standards enforced by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), Office of Licensing (OOL) to ensure the well-being of the child care workforce, children and families they serve.
Child care centers will be required to implement the following guidelines:
Drop-Off and Pick-Up Procedures
- Staff and children will be screened prior to entering the center each day in a screening area, either outside, in the entryway or before the child exits the car. This includes screening for COVID-19 symptoms and whether the person has a fever above 100.4 degrees. Parents will also be asked to notify their program whether they or their child have been exposed to anyone known to have COVID-19 within the last two weeks.
- The child care program may change or reduce their regular operating hours to ensure social distancing when families pick up and drop off children. Parents may no longer be able to escort their children to the classroom and teachers may conduct screenings and then help the child to their classroom for the day.
Social Distancing and Daily Operations
- All groupings will not exceed ten children. Parents can expect children will be in a setting with a smaller number of peers and their normal classroom schedule may change to reflect these guidelines. Revised playtime outside will also shift to ensure that playtime occurs in staggered shifts so that classes do not interact with one another.
- Toy and supply sharing will be limited, and children should limit the number of personal belongings they bring to school. Children’s belongings will be stored separately, and some items, like bedding, will be sent home daily to be washed.
- Special events, field trips and visitors to the center will not be permitted.
- All staff will be required to wear masks while at the center and when possible, children will also be required to wear masks. However, children under age two will not be required to wear masks due to the risks of suffocation.
- Cleaning and sanitizing routines will be even more rigorous. High-touch surfaces will be sanitized regularly and toys that cannot be cleaned or disinfected easily will not be used. If possible, windows will be opened more frequently to allow airflow and/or HVAC systems will be adjusted to allow for more fresh air to enter the building.
- Children and staff will be asked to practice frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds and will be monitored for proper technique.
- Meals and snacks will be provided in the classrooms where groups are throughout the day. Children and staff are recommended to use disposable silverware and plates. Staff will be required to wear gloves when handling food and snacks. Family-style servings will be discontinued.
- In the event that a child develops symptoms of COVID-19 while at the child care center, the family will be notified and the child will be moved to a separate space with a caregiver. If a child tests positive for COVID-19, the program needs to notify their local health department for guidance and operating procedures.
While these new guidelines will certainly impact children and their families, there are some steps parents can take to prepare:
- Parents can ask the child care center to set up a video chat so that the child can see their teacher wearing a face mask and allow the child to ask any questions.
- Families should continue practicing social distancing and proper hygiene, and can even make handwashing and wearing a mask fun while practicing at home.
- While parents may no longer be able to visit and participate in their child’s program, it is important to communicate with caregivers on a regular basis and identify new ways to do so, such as email, phone or text.
- Parents who need additional guidance or support choosing a new child care program can reach out to their county-based child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agency. CCR&Rs support families in understanding and accessing child care in their community by providing child care referrals to all types of available options including licensed child care centers, registered family child care homes, school-age child care and summer camps. CCR&R staff can provide a list of referrals personalized to a family’s needs and preferences, including checklists for evaluating high-quality child care and determine eligibility for families who may be eligible for subsidized child care.
Navigating child care under normal circumstances can be difficult and stressful, but there are organizations like CCR&Rs to help support families during these times. Child care programs will adapt to these new operating requirements and identify methods to best support their staff and the children in their care. As we begin to return from this uncertain time, child care programs are central to helping their staff, children, families and communities recover.