Opening up During COVID-19: Carly Garner, A Childcare Provider, Shares Her Experience

Early Childhood Providers and Educators: Essential Heroes 

Early care providers and educational programs: the essential workers who provide an essential service for other, equally essential workers.  

These crucial professionals tend to slip through the cracks. Today, and as the ambiguity concerning COVID-19 progresses, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation will continue to lift up, support, and share early childhood providers, educators, programs, and centers in their triumphs, struggles, and difficulties.  

We have heard a fair number of stories, to be sure. Our early childhood providers and programs each have a different tale, and each one is equally heartfelt. Many of these early childhood professionals tell stories of innovation: adapting activities to the outdoors where children can then engage in scientific experiments, explaining to children what COVID-19 is and is not, adapting to their school-age attendees’ e-learning platforms, and even creating their own Facebook e-learning page for all their children – even those who are no longer attending their program or center.  

To be sure, every experience is unique, but each one deserves equal treatment. We will continue to share these stories. Carly Garner, a Nebraska, home-based childcare provider located in Burwell/Garfield Counties, opens up about her experience staying open during the pandemic.   

COVID-19’s Uncertain Future for Early Care and Education Providers

Early care providers and educators realize that whereas they are performing an essential act, they are also assuming a highly empathetic one. Many early childhood programs and providers have worked with their families and children for years. Early care educators and providers not only make up an important part of our economy; they have also become an honorary member of their attendees’ families.  

Meanwhile, questions abound: if they close will they ever reopen? What will their families, whom they have grown to care for as much as their children, do if they close their doors? How do they best serve their families, selves, and children? For Carly, she deliberates these questions along with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.  

Carly said she felt the effects of COVID-19 almost immediately.  

“Back in March when it really hit, I lost a few families,” said Carly. Carly said that she feels sorry for those families who can no longer place their children in her care and stresses about her own future.  

“I’m still working, but half of my income was taken away,” said Carly. She said that this situation’s uncertainty has evoked a similar emotional ambiguity.  

“It’s hurting but it’s not, it’s good but it’s bad,” she said regarding her complex reactions to this ever-changing situation. Carly said she feels empathy for her colleagues, hopefulness that there is a bright side, and worry due to the absence but possibility of the virus arriving at her location.  

Carly said that she literally has to make up her new rules as she goes along – just as the pandemic seems to require.  

“Parents keep asking if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak. I take it day-by-day. I check [an informational site] to see if people [in my area] have been tested. I have to play it by ear.” 

Carly said she knows one thing for sure: that if COVID-19 surfaces in her area, she will need to act quickly.  

“It’s really tough because [the virus] can spread really fast,” she said.  

Carly said she does see a few upsides and downsides to closing, so she is trying to evaluate both. She said that no matter what, however, her family will come first.  

“My main focus is having one-on-one time with my daughter,” she said. Aside from spending quality time with her child, who is Carly’s top priority, she also has various other side-tasks on her agenda.  

“I’ll need to [re]sanitize my entire home, get back to organization. I won’t be bored; but I won’t have any income,” Carly said.  

Carly said she will not close unless she receives this unfortunate omen, but instead maintains precautionary communication with her families. She advises them against traveling, in addition to adhering to other best health practices.  

Carly said she builds time into her schedule to consistently update and gently remind parents of these important strictures.  

“Naptime is 1-3 pm. I’ll type something out, wording it nicely. These kids’ safety and health are my top priorities, including my own daughter’s well-being,” she said.  

Carly said she maintains her calm and refuses to engage in excessive anxiety. “I try not to read into this too much because I’d be in extreme panic mode.” 

What Does the Future Look Like for Carly and Her Cohort?  

Meanwhile, Carly has another project on the horizon. Ironically, as COVID-19 has caused some childcare providers to close their doors, she’s in the process of opening other ones.  

Carly has been on a committee that has been trying to get a community childcare center up-and-running. She said that this center was created as a response to many local families who are either pregnant or looking for early care educators and providers in the surrounding area. 

“We’re trying to get this [center] open so childcare providers can take a day off, and parents won’t be stressed,” she said. Carly explained this community early care center would allow other area providers to take a day off for whatever reason without feeling guilty, while parents would not have to stress about finding childcare in the area.  

“We also want to draw the young community back. We’re trying to make us get up and get going for the future,” she said.  

For Carly and her fellow board members, the community childcare center is still in the works – and appears to be that way no matter what.  

For Carly Garner, family comes first: both her own and those whose children she cares for.
For Carly Garner, family comes first: both her own and those whose children she cares for.

Carly said some action items include fundraising, which has become a challenge due to social distancing but she and her cohort are still discussing ways they can obtain funds. As of now, she said that she and her fellow committee members have selected a location and need to have it inspected.  

“[COVID-19] has impacted our meetings,” she said. “We’ve been trying to do this online. We’re trying to figure out how to help providers right now.”  

Carly said in the meantime, she continues to wait and see how the future will unfold.  

“It’s really hard to know when to close, when to open, and all the while not step on parents’ toes. I guess I’ll have to keep playing it by ear. I want to provide services, but there are a lot of questions.”  

Carly said enrollment poses yet another uncertainty.  

“I have two families [in my care] every day…hypothetically,” she said in reference to no-shows due to affordability, social distancing, and lay-offs.  

Again, empathy, economics, and ethical questions abound.  

Meanwhile, Carly said that she and area providers continue to do what they do best: take care of not just children – but each other.  

“Through this whole COVID thing I try and contact other providers because we’ve all got to stick together. I’ll see if they’re closing, try to help, see if everyone is OK. I’ll see if [other providers] need hand sanitizer; kids touch everything! They put things in their mouth! I’m just trying to get people the stuff they need,” she said.  

Carly said the early care providers and educators in her area support one another by offering care to families if one of the centers closes.  

“There’s no childcare,” said Carly in relation to the surrounding areas’ scarcity. “So, people are scrambling to find childcare. There are only two licensed providers here.”  

Carly said when one of the providers let go of one of her families due to the health restrictions, among them was a woman with many children. From there, the early care educators and providers leveraged their resources. Carly said she and another provider managed to jump in and each take a few of the children into care. 

Meanwhile, as questions echo, our childcare providers tightrope-walk a fine line between health, empathy, and finances. What will happen? How high is the fall? What will it take to catch us? Will COVID-19 come to a town near us? Although these questions remain unanswered, we will continue to support the voices of those asking them: our early care providers and educators.

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Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

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