A day care lies empty as parents struggle to find options for their children amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy photo)
A day care lies empty as parents struggle to find options for their children amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

Substantial numbers of Black and minority families across the District are working essential careers at disproportionate rates in comparison to their counterparts, leaving parents struggling to maintain work and day care options for their children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the District government has built initiatives to ensure child care services for essential government and health care employees, a vast number of lower-income residents do not occupy job vacancies allowing flexibility to work while supervising their children at home.

“I’m barely managing it. I mostly work mornings, during my son’s school time. My work schedule usually conflicts with his learning hours, making it hard to work and assist him with virtual classes at the same time,” said Tiffani Butler, a D.C. resident and essential retail worker.

Parents and child care providers alike toil with the future of their children’s adaptability to virtual learning amidst the circumstance that they cannot immediately return to their usual day care curriculum.

“We want the kids to be able to learn, but myself as a parent, I see that virtual learning is not the same. I believe being in front of a physical teacher while learning is the best way,” said Joy Addison, co-manager of the Woodbridge Day Care Center.

Local day care facilities are also grappling to find balance upon reopening to their communities. Although licensed child care centers were granted permission to operate amid the pandemic, many have been shut down due to the high risk of COVID-19 infections.

Woodbridge Daycare Center, located in the Northeast neighborhood of Brookland, closed its doors in March with a projected reopening in October of this year. District child care subsidies have helped to make ends meet while day care providers arrange plans to welcome families back into their facilities.

“The subsidy funding is still coming in, so we’re still able to cover things like the mortgage, the water — the main bills. So that’s a large part of how we’re able to stay afloat,” Addison said.

But despite financial assistance helping to keep local facilities open, temporary closures have forced essential working parents deemed unqualified under the Emergency Child Care Initiative requirements, to choose between working or supervising their children.

The city currently sustains 468 licensed child care facilities, with only over roughly ⅓ of these centers operating with either limited or full reopening standards at this time.

Since the citywide shutdown beginning in March of this year, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has coordinated weekly calls averaging 350-360 weekly participants, providing updates and exchanging dialogue with all District child care providers of the broader early child care community.

“We have meetings every Monday with OSSE. They give us updates, information on PPE’s, and advice for our centers whether they’re currently opened or closed. They’ve been doing their part,” Addison said.

The District continues to provide child care subsidies to qualifying families, regardless of their habitual provider’s status. The emergency funding affords parents the ability to reserve child care services while working in essential positions that prohibit options for telework.

Allocated stipends cover a portion and, in many cases, full child care service costs contingent on each family’s earning bracket.

OSSE maintains a contracted partnership with the DC Child Care Connections, who focuses efforts to connect families with available care options, now being more essential than ever.

“The public health emergency even further underscores the critical status of early childhood care and education in D.C. and across the country,” said Hanseul Kang, the District’s superintendent for education. “We are working incredibly hard to provide the necessary guidance, support, and technical assistance to all of our child care providers during this really challenging time.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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