Children play at a family child care home in Oakland. (Photo by Michael Collier/EdSource Today)

As schools and businesses close across California to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus, child care providers are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide emergency support to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizations representing both private child care centers and family child care providers, who run programs out of their homes, are calling for Newsom to provide emergency funding to pay sick leave to their assistants who fall ill or need to care for their own family members, and to purchase sanitation supplies to disinfect their homes or centers. These providers care primarily for children 0-5 years old, in addition to some school-age children, and in some cases receive subsidies for low-income families who qualify.

They are also asking for funding to hire additional child care assistants and substitutes to help take over for those who have to stay home, or so they can meet new requirements to watch smaller groups of children at a time and keep all groups separate.

In addition, they are asking for the state to compensate providers for children who receive subsidized care, even if they are absent because of the “shelter in place” requirements and other restrictions on their movements, and to provide benefits such as paid family leave and sick leave, unemployment insurance, workers compensation and extended disability for child care providers who would not normally qualify for them.

Many preschool programs run by school districts and colleges have closed across the state. Some private centers and family child care homes have also closed, due to local health guidance or out of precaution to avoid infection of workers and children, though there is no data on how many yet.

The petitions were sent by Child Care Providers United, which represents licensed family child care providers who run programs out of their homes, and Californians for Quality Early Learning, which is a nonprofit membership organization that provides training and support for child care providers. Child Care Providers United is the first organization representing family child care providers in the state to file for a union election, after a bill passed last year, AB 378, gave these workers the right to collectively bargain for better conditions and state subsidies.

“We’re treated like the stepchild, but yet we’re on the front lines,” said Nancy Harvey, who runs Li’l Nancy’s Primary Schoolhouse out of her home in West Oakland. “We’re helping these families continue to work and keep up their income.”

A bill that the Legislature passed Monday, SB 117, which ensures funding for K-12 school districts during school closures, will allow child care centers and family child care homes to continue to receive subsidies from the state for low-income children if their businesses close due to an executive order in response to the pandemic. The bill was immediately signed by Newsom.

National child care advocacy organizations are also calling on Congress to provide emergency funding to help early learning programs stay in business. They say the outbreak is exposing many of the weaknesses that already exist in the child care system — many child care providers do not have paid sick leave, they struggle to find substitutes, and often if children do not attend a program, providers do not get paid.

“They are already operating on razor-thin margins, and this could be the thing that pushes them out of business,” said Catherine White, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, one of the organizations that signed on to a letter to Congress.

Of the 11 infants and preschoolers enrolled in Li’l Nancy’s Primary Schoolhouse, only four are still attending. Harvey said they include the child of a doctor and the child of a school janitor, who is working to clean and disinfect a school.

Harvey has cut the number of assistants who help her every day from four to two, on a rotating schedule. She said parents already paid for this month of child care, but she and other providers are worried about how to pay expenses if the outbreak continues into April or beyond.

“There’s some very serious concerns going forward because if these parents don’t bring the children back in April, I can’t afford to continue to pay my staff and keep my doors open,” Harvey said.

Advocates say child care is a crucial service during a public health crisis like this one, especially because health professionals like nurses and doctors need child care in order to go to work and care for those who are stricken with COVID-19.

“Even if a large number of industries shut down, child care will still be needed for those folks. We cannot underscore enough how much it is needed to keep people healthy and safe,” White said.

A disproportionate number of family child care providers nationwide are remaining open, either because local governments have asked them to do so, or because of the needs of parents or the providers themselves, said Christie Balka, policy director of All Our Kin, an organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, that provides training and advocacy for child care providers. In California, family child care providers often serve lower-income parents and those who need flexible schedules.

“We don’t want any child care provider or, frankly, any family, to feel like they have to choose between following health recommendations and family economic security,” Balka said.

The California Department of Social Services, which oversees licenses for child care and preschool, is leaving the decision of whether to close or stay open up to individual providers, and is asking providers to refer to local public health ordinances and to the guidance for schools from the California Department of Public Health.

Child Care Aware of America, a national organization that works with state and local agencies that support providers, is recommending that if a school district has closed because of the virus, child care programs located in that district should also close, except for those that provide care for essential emergency and health care personnel.

In the counties that have ordered residents to “shelter in place,” child care is considered an essential service, if it is for the children of health care workers and others who still have to work outside the home during the crisis. However, even under those circumstances, providers must care for groups of no more than 12 children and adhere to other health and safety guidelines.

Ana Andrade decided to close The Wolfpack Child Care, which she runs out of her home in San Rafael, in Marin County, north of San Francisco, on Friday, after receiving guidelines from the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services. She’s worried, though, about whether she’ll be able to open back up after the crisis is over.

“I don’t know yet from the families that I have which ones will be affected economically,” Andrade said.

Many parents who still have to work have had to scramble to find child care. Sophia Osotio, of Novato, north of San Francisco, still has to go to work as a barista in a hotel from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. When her 9-year-old daughter’s school and the child care center where she attends after school both closed, Osotio had to scramble to find a babysitter.

“I’m worried about how long this will last, and being that I’m still working, I’m worried about my health,” Osotio said. “And how long will my babysitter stay healthy? What if something happens to her? If she got sick, then what would I do?”

Story originally published by EdSource.

Zaidee Stavely