Coronavirus causes closure of Hingham childcare facilities starting Monday
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On Wednesday, March 18th, Governor Charlie Baker announced that all childcare programs in Massachusetts must close effective Monday, March 23rd and remain closed until Monday, April 6th. Only childcare programs designated as emergency facilities would be allowed to stay open for the purpose of providing care for “the families who work to maintain the health, safety and welfare of all commonwealth citizens” – also known as “critical employees.” He added that “vulnerable children will also receive priority access.”
In response to the Governor’s order, the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency that oversees childcare programs in the state, has taken the lead.
In a statement, EEC said that it is “establishing a process to approve Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs” which will be “the only child care programs that are allowed to operate during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.” Childcare workers have already begun applying to become emergency childcare programs, and a list of approved providers will be available on Saturday. According to EEC, the list will be “continuously updated.”
What does this mean for working families whose jobs are not considered critical but who rely on their childcare providers in order to continue working?
“Governor ordered all childcare programs to close, both centers and home child care providers who are licensed by the state,” said Colleen Quinn, Communications Director for the Executive Office of Education. Even those who aren’t currently childcare providers, like a neighbor or a friend, but are willing to take in the children of critical employees need to become licensed. “If someone is providing care for a neighbor’s child or children, they are not an approved emergency program. Only approved emergency programs are supposed to be operating child care,” said Ms. Quinn. This includes existing childcare programs. “Home childcare providers must also be approved as emergency childcare programs by EEC.”
Which Hingham programs will remain open?
Most programs closed when the Hingham Public Schools closed a week ago. Home-based providers that are still working have low enrollment and face a difficult decision. “I will not become an emergency facility,” said Kate McPherson, who runs a childcare program out of her home in Hingham. “Given I’m over 60 and in the senior compromised bracket and after losing (my husband) Brian, my anxiety for anyone getting this is just more than I’d like.” Most are making the same decision. “I can’t afford to take on the children of front line workers and run the risk of potentially exposing my home and my family (to the virus),” said Lisa Commesso, a licensed childcare provider who has run her home childcare business in Norwell for over 17 years.
So far this is only a short-term ban.
The Governor’s mandate is in effect through April 6th. In the meantime, starting at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 21st, anyone looking for childcare – including people who have to work but aren’t first responders or medical staff – can check in with approved programs in their region using the link below to see if there is a slot available that they could fill. Childcare programs will be making decisions, in consultation with the relevant EEC regional office, about who qualifies for care based on the needs of families that apply. However, EEC is quick to point out that these Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs are not intended to be a replacement for traditional childcare. As Ms. Quinn emphatically stated, “It is an emergency program.”