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Childcare adapts for essential workers

Lakewoods Child Care Centre in Oshawa is one of eight emergency child care centres open in Durham to help frontline workers during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Region of Durham)

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the main strategy to flatten the curve and help stop the spread of the virus has been to stay at home.

Amidst the pandemic, on March 12, 2020, one day before the start of March Break, the province of Ontario announced schools would be closed. Child care centres were added to the list of closures on March 17.

On March 23, the province announced the full closure of all non-essential businesses. Those working at an essential business, such as grocery stores and take-out restaurants, as well as healthcare and frontline emergency workers, have continued working through the pandemic, which has left many parents without an option for childcare when they are at work.

However, the province included an exemption to allow certain child care centres to re-open for children of essential health care and frontline workers who meet the eligibility requirements.

On April 7, 2020, the Regional Municipality of Durham, under guidance from the province, opened eight free emergency child care centres across the region, including two sites in Oshawa, as well as four licenced home care operators, for essential healthcare and frontline workers.

According to Lisa McIntosh, director of children’s services, more than 250 children have utilized the emergency child care services.

McIntosh says programs and activities are continuing at the centres, but are operating under special guidelines set by the province for the health and safety of both the children and the educators.

“This is a really amazing program that early childhood education teams are offering and they are doing a really good job implementing environments that are as safe as possible so essential workers can go to work each day,” she explains.

Registered ECE Courtney Trafford works at the Lakewoods Child Care Centre in Oshawa, which is one of the facilities currently open. She says a lot of changes have been made within the centres to keep everything clean and safe, including how often everything is cleaned and sanitized, as well as the physical environment like what toys and materials are accessible and available.

Trafford says programming has also changed, as child care is currently offered in family group settings, which means there are children of various ages within the same group. Since child care centres are open 24/7, children are coming and going at all hours, and for some children this is their first experience in a child care setting, which Trafford says is something they’re trying to support them with. She says their main goal is to keep the children engaged and learning.

“We focus on the experiences they’re interested in that will engage them throughout the day,” she says. Building relationships with the families under these circumstances has been interesting, Trafford adds.

“It wouldn’t be the way we typically do it, so it’s been challenging, but it has also helped us to build a lot of skills as a team and really go back to why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says Trafford. “To support the children and families, and, really, to support the parents and the frontline workers so they can feel comfortable doing the job they’re doing, which is important for our community as a whole.”

Trafford says support among the educators and staff has been amazing.

“We’re really trying to work together as a team to ensure the educators are supporting one another,” she says. “We were a really great team before all this and now we’ve just had to adapt and be a bit more flexible.”

Trafford feels “pretty amazing” with how quickly the program came together, a program she feels has really been able to offer tremendous support for frontline workers.

“Never in a million years would I have expected I would go through a pandemic as a registered ECE,” says Trafford. “So, I think overall, we’re pretty proud of each other that we’ve been able to develop these plans, policies and procedures that really allow us to support those frontline and essential workers to do the work they need to do, and feel comfortable knowing their children are in a safe place and a safe environment.”