Guest post by Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-Paramedic, and executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness. The author of the Preparing for the Unexpected series, Roszak shares simple steps to help you reopen your early childcare center during COVID-19.
It’s like walking a tightrope. Across the country, and indeed the world, early childhood professionals find themselves attempting to balance health and safety with the continued need to provide services to their communities. It’s not an easy task, especially when guidance seems to shift daily and supplies are in short supply.
Reopening programs is going to require a concerted effort, one that is carefully planned and executed. For those programs that are currently closed, it’s time to begin preparing for your reopening.
Below are a few simple steps you can begin today to better position yourself for reopening.
Step 1: Establish an advisory board
Now is the time to harness the collective wisdom and knowledge of your network. No single person has all the answers for an event of this magnitude. Establishing an advisory board can provide you with various viewpoints, opinions, and expertise to help guide your reopening. Because it is crucial to ensure your policies and procedures are transparent, well thought out and informed by the latest scientific data, an advisory board can help guide and vet your policy and operational decisions, prior to implementation.
Further, an advisory board provides an excellent opportunity to engage with community leaders, your clients, and staff members—all in the name of child safety. Since everyone that has contact with your program will need to follow the new policies and procedures, having the recommendations come from an advisory board could make their enforcement easier. The board can help demonstrate ‘buy-in’ to these new operating realities, and may even be able to serve as reinforcement.
Step 2: Review key questions with your insurance agent and legal council
Early childhood professionals are facing many legal and financial questions right now. I recommend you seek the advice of experts to fully understand your insurance coverage and your potential liability therein. When connecting with these experts, inquire about business interruption insurance—and, make sure you know what is and, importantly, is not covered. Next, ask about employment law, as it may have changed. You’ll want to ensure you’re up to speed on all the latest developments and requirements.
Step 3: Communicate with the families you serve
Now, more than ever, we need to communicate with the families we serve. Reach out, let them know you miss them. Ask about their children, offer to video chat and say hi. Routine engagement with families and children builds trust and deepens your relationship.
It’s also a good idea to ask how they feel and understand what their current needs are. If you opened tomorrow, would they need child care? Would they feel safe coming back to your program? What would it take to make them feel safe and comfortable sending their child to your program?
We know the pandemic has caused families a lot of financial stress and harm. Check in with them and link them to local social service agencies, such as food banks, if they’re in need. A little communication will go a long way.
Step 4: Get your staff trained and on the same page
It’s vital that all staff are on the same page prior to reopening, as you’ll have new policies and procedures to help combat the likelihood of infection from the Coronavirus. You will need to apply these changes consistently and with a uniform approach.
The Coronavirus has changed the vast majority of our operations, including drop off, nap time, play time, food service, cleaning, and disinfecting. You’ll need to train your entire staff to activate this ‘new normal’. Staff should receive this training prior to resuming operations. That way, the moment you reopen, everyone will be on the same page and will understand the rationale behind the new changes.
If much of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry—you’re not alone. This is a new challenge for everyone and there are resources to help. The Institute for Childhood Preparedness was founded to help early childhood professionals prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters. Since the onset of the pandemic, the experts at the Institute have been working to ensure early childhood professionals have access to the information and experts they need. To date, the Institute has developed more than nine hours of Coronavirus training specifically for early childhood professionals, including:
- Coronavirus information for early childhood professionals (1.5 hours) (English and Spanish)
- Domestic Violence Issues and Awareness (0.5 hours)
- Food Safety Considerations for Early Childhood Programs during Coronavirus (1.5 hours)
- Behavioral and Mental Health Considerations (1.5 hours)
- Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting Your Program (2 hours)
- Reopening Your Program After Coronavirus—Operational, Staffing and Legal Considerations (2.5 hours) (English; Spanish version coming soon)
These trainings are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may purchase each course individually for $19, or purchase the entire 6-course bundle for $95. Until June 15, 2020, you can use code GRYPHON at checkout to receive $10 off the 6-course bundle.
There will be setbacks and difficult days ahead. However, with each passing day, we are one day closer to putting the pandemic behind us. In times of crisis, leaders rise to the top. It is incumbent on us to be those leaders and ensure we are doing all we can to protect the health and safety of our staff, our community and, most importantly, the children we serve.
About the Author
Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-Paramedic, serves as the executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, as Chief of Preparedness, Health and Environment for the Region II Head Start Association and as an adjunct professor in the school of community and environmental health at Old Dominion University. Roszak is the author of the Gryphon House series, Preparing for the Unexpected. His first book, Preschool Preparedness for an Active Shooter is available now. The second book in the series, Preschool Preparedness for an Emergency will be available in December 2020. Roszak has worked on emergency preparedness issues at the local, regional, state, and federal level for the past twenty years. Find more at www.childhoodpreparedness.org.