COVID-19’s Effect on Early Care and Afterschool Programs: Providers Adapt, Grapple, and Make the Most Out of Difficult Times

This spring, COVID-19 is a name and number with which you’re probably well-acquainted. You’re more than likely aware of many other numbers, too. From the number of infected individuals in your area to the number of businesses closed to the number of layoffs, we can recite these statistics by heart.  

Here at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, as an organization that seeks to grow the good life for all our children, we empathize with those who are witnessing, dealing, and adjusting to these uncertain times.  

The children at Cherry Creative Corner are creating and playing while Shannon and her staff find ways to adapt to new circumstances.

In addition to members of the service industry and retail being impacted, there is one occasionally overlooked, equally affected demographic whose voice we aim to capture: our early care providers.  

Today, we spoke with Shannon Crosby, the director of Cherry Park Creative Corner in Grand Island, Nebraska. Shannon and other Nebraskan early childcare providers have their own numbers to contend with. Here are a few:  

54 is the number of children Shannon oversaw before the pandemic; she currently cares for 25-38.  

Six weeks through 12 years: the ages of her program’s attendees.  

15: the average number of her staff; she now has 6-7.  

20: the number of years some of her staff have worked at her facility.  

50%: the number of hours Shannon has had to cut.  

As you can imagine, these statistics signify a drastic change for our early care providers, who are working as fast and hard as they can to address these changes and provide a safe environment for our children.  

Despite this crisis, Shannon is yet another example of our early care workforce hard at work – and of how early childhood programs are connected to economic success.  

Shannon said both her community’s financial outcomes and early care, which are already intimately connected, are staring at an unpredictable future.   

“The financial aspect is scary,” said Shannon. “I need to have a safe center and care for essential workers’ children. We are being the supportive part for these essential workers. Without providing care, we wouldn’t have people to work. Somebody has to care for these kids.”  

Shannon explained that Grand Island is the home to many working hubs. From a meat-packing plant with 3,500 employees, many of whom are still working, Walmart, fast food chains, and FedEx, Shannon said that although some parents have taken time off or been laid off, many continue to work out of financial necessity.  

The question remains, who will care for these children, particularly when early care providers must observe the legal limitations to keep our state healthy?  

Whereas for many Nebraska communities, the lack of childcare and loss of jobs has taken a toll, Shannon poses an equally important counter-question: what about those towns where there are still essential working families? Who will care for their children, especially during staff cuts, facilities closing, and limitations on enrollment?  

Shannon and her staff work hard to create the best facility they can and connect with families on Facebook to show them that their children are happy and safe.

Meanwhile, Shannon said she is committed to going to great lengths to ensure that she, her staff, children, and families are safe.  

She said that she and her staff work on weekends to deep-sanitize and clean the facility. Shannon has also enacted a few new measures to enforce everyone’s health.  

“My new policy is that prior to drop-off and pick-up, we do temperature checks of both kids and parents,” she said. “That’s because even if one of them isn’t showing signs of being sick, the other one may.”  

Shannon said her proactive measures continue throughout the day. “As soon as the kids are here, they wash their hands,” she said. “They put their stuff in a bag. Kids with coughing [symptoms] can’t be here.”  

She said that this removal is only temporary; families who wish for their child to return must bring a doctor’s note. In addition, families who travel must remain away from care for two and a half weeks.  

“Kids and parents are doing awesome – they’re used to it,” said Shannon, who had adopted some of these practices three and a half weeks ago, long before the pandemic’s presence was as pronounced.  

Amid all the difficulty and changes, Shannon says she tries to educate and reassure her children with practical facts about COVID-19.

Shannon, who runs an early care and afterschool program for infants as young as six weeks to 12-year-olds, said that one of the difficulties has been dispelling misinformation among her school-age attendees.  

“One of my kids, a six-year-old boy, said ‘We have COVID because we’re out of toilet paper,’” said Shannon. “We had to go back and do some teaching. We want [our kids] to have an accurate understanding. We don’t just want them to blame [major retail chains].”  

She said these issues are often related to children overhearing parents and checking social media. “Their little, stable world has changed,” she said. “I explain and educate them, because I [recently also] heard a little girl say, ‘this is just like the flu.”  

“I do my best to explain and educate and explain this [virus] is a little bit worse than that. I comfort and give enough information without overloading and give it directly from the Governor-not social media.”  

Shannon said she doesn’t only reassure her children with the proper facts; having cared for some of her school-age participants since they were infants, she has had to soothe them as well.  

Shannon said children in her care have expressed disappointment and sadness over not seeing their friends or teachers. 

“I had a little girl cry because she missed her teachers and friends,” she said. Shannon said she and her staff are there to comfort.  

Shannon explained that kids aren’t the only ones affected. “People are really struggling. Parents are worried. They don’t want to work, but they have to. Their guilt is obvious.”  

Shannon said she has a few saving graces, however, including her skilled, understanding staff and several different supportive resources.  

“I have to rotate staff. Some have been here for 20 years, so I have to show loyalty, but on the weekends, I give [the less tenured] other staff those hours.” Shannon said during those weekends, she and her workers dedicate themselves to deep-cleaning and sanitizing.  

Grand Island Sixpence Child Care Partnership was another supportive source for Shannon. “Sixpence has been great; they helped me get resources I needed.” 

Shannon said that Grand Island Sixpence Child Care Partnership has helped her in different areas, including one important one.  

“The coach has been great at helping me get toilet paper. We have kids potty-training, so we really need it!” She went on to say that she’d begin working with Rooted in Relationships this week, too. 

Shannon mentioned her staff as among her most dependable resources.  

“We’re close-knit. We try to balance each other out. We repeat current and real information and try to defuse each other and keep ground and aware.”   

Above all, although the future appears foggy, Shannon said she still has a vision.  

 “We can’t lose sight of being the best center we can,” she said.  

Shannon continues to strive for excellence throughout her childcare center.

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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