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For essential workers, a little daycare goes a long way

May 20, 2020
Feature Stories

For front-line and essential workers on the job during the pandemic, physical distancing and hand washing are more than just safety measures. They are meaningful actions the public can take to show solidarity and support for the men and women who go to work each day to keep our city moving forward.

Ensuring our front-line heroes have access to safe, quality child care for their kids is one of the most meaningful ways we as a City can support them.

Early Childhood Educator Sharon Stoddard works at Esther By Child Care Centre – one of the city’s three emergency child cares for children of essential workers.

A woman in a black coat sits outside at a picnic table with a blonde girl playing with toys on the table between them.

Sharon, can you tell me about the safety protocols in place at these emergency child care centres?

First, parents don’t come inside. Each child care centre has a screener who wears full protective gear: a mask, gloves, gown and a face shield. They also have a thermometer to check temperatures of both the parents and the children from a two-metre distance. Parents and children are screened outside and another staff member, stationed in the foyer, records the screening information. The children are then escorted inside by a teacher who helps them wash their hands and put away their coats and bags before joining their play groups.

We also have two housekeepers on staff at each child care centre who clean and sanitize continuously throughout the day.

How do the kids react to people greeting them at the door in full protective gear?

I was expecting some to be alarmed or upset, but everyone got used to it pretty quickly. There was an adjustment period for the toddlers, but that’s to be expected during any transition to a new daycare. On the whole, the children seem pretty unfazed by the protective gear. I’m sure it helps that they have a parent right there with them.

Aside from the new protocols, what else is different in terms of how the emergency child care centres are run?

Our ratios are very low. For the toddler group, the ratio of staff to children is typically one to five. Here it’s one to three. For the preschoolers, it’s normally one to eight, but right now it’s one to four.

We cap our numbers at eight preschoolers and three toddlers, so 11 kids in total. Small numbers are nice because it means these children are getting more individualized attention. It also lets us do some activities we couldn’t do if we had a larger group. One of my colleagues brought in board games, for example, and the older children seem to enjoy the challenge.

Are the hours different?

Absolutely. Our goal is to accommodate essential workers, and we can be open between 6 am and 11 pm. We haven’t had anyone make use of those nighttime hours yet, but the option is there if it’s ever needed. A small number of kids are with us until after 6 pm, and we provide supper.

What is it like trying to keep the kids apart from one another?

The small number of children makes it manageable.

Being outside helps. We like to give the children as much time outdoors as possible. During outdoor play they have separate areas with their own sand toys, assigned bikes and individual tables where they can play with table-top toys. Everything they touch throughout the day is disinfected.

Inside, we keep the groups apart from one another so they’re only interacting within their own smaller groups. The rooms are set up with areas of play designed to maintain a two-metre distance. Each child has their own area with different types of toys and creative-art materials. During snacks and meals, they sit at assigned seats that are two metres apart.

We have a few pairs of siblings that we’ve kept together, even in cases where their ages would normally mean they would be in different groups. Under the circumstances, it only makes sense and it seems to be working well.

Two kids in spring jackets and rubber boots search for worms in a daycare playground.
The kids at Esther By Child Care Centre are making the most of spring, searching for worms and generally spending lots of time outdoors.

What are the interactions with parents like?

Many of these parents are doctors, nurses, firefighters – I can only imagine what their workdays must be like during this pandemic, so my goal is to reassure them. We want them to rest easy knowing we are doing absolutely everything in our power to keep their children safe. And like any parent picking up their kids at the end of the day, they’re interested to hear how their day was.

I know they appreciate how diligent we are about hand washing and sanitation, and they like that their children are getting so much one-on-one time with educators. I think the kids are also benefitting from the sense of normalcy and routine they get by going to daycare.

I’ve been working at City-run child care centres for 35 years and I’m approaching retirement. I feel safe in this environment, and I’m really happy to be supporting front-line workers and their families during this difficult time. I love working with these incredible kids, knowing that by caring for them, I’m giving their parents some peace of mind as they go about the critical work they do in our fight against COVID-19.

More stories about how City of Ottawa staff are supporting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic:

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