BOONE — More than three-quarters of licensed child care centers and family child care homes — 76 percent — are currently closed in Watauga County, according to the Children’s Council of Watauga County.
But the Children’s Council listed 10 early learning centers and family child care homes that are still open and able to provide child care for essential workers, with subsidies available from the state’s emergency child care subsidy program established for essential workers following Gov. Roy Cooper stay-at-home order. The assistance will be offered through May and could potentially be extended.
They include the Greenway Child Development Center at Greenway Baptist Church, Learning and Fun, Sunny Side Daycare, Merry-Land Academy & Childcare, Lynhill Day Care & Development Center, Sugar Grove Developmental Day School, Precious and Few, Almost Home, Small Blessings and Small Ones.
“We would like to urge people to take advantage of these services if needed,” said Mary Scott, associate director of the Children’s Council. “There are strict cleaning standards and physical space standards that these providers are required to follow in order to remain open. For employees that are required to go into work right now, this is an opportunity to receive additional funding to help pay for your child’s care during this time.
“Most child care centers are barely scraping by in normal times,” Scott added. “Now, amidst this crisis, many early learning sites can’t afford to stay open. We hope it is temporary, but we just don’t know at this point. In a desperately needed system that was already struggling, this is a hard hit that many will not bounce back from without financial support. This would be a tremendous loss for our community.”
To receive an emergency care subsidy, three criteria must be met for individuals to receive aid:
- The individual’s income is below 300 percent of the poverty line.
- The individual is an essential worker fighting COVID-19 or protecting the health and safety of communities.
- The individual feels they have no other viable child care options available to them.
To receive information about local options for children from infants through age 12, call the state’s hotline at 1-888-600-1685. Families will be connected with child care programs that agree to meet updated health, safety and operational guidelines.
After calling the hotline, contact the recommended child care program to receive the proper enrollment forms.
If you are an essential worker who needs financial assistance for emergency child care, complete the COVID-19 Parent Application for Financial Assistance for Emergency Child Care (available at https://tinyurl.com/y88v8n4b) and submit it to your child care provider. You can also fill out a hard copy of this form at your child care facility.
NCDHHS has said it will pay child care programs that are serving essential workers $300 per month for each full-time teacher at the facility and $200 per month for each full-time non-teaching staff member, including administrators, janitors and other support staff. In addition, all child care programs, whether they remain open or have closed, will receive regular child care subsidy payments based on typical attendance for April and May.
“Child care is an essential service as we respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “Our health care professionals caring for those who are sick, grocery workers who are restocking shelves and truck drivers delivering packages to our doors all need child care so that they can go to work — and we want to be sure child care teachers and programs have support in providing safe, quality care.”
According to the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, half of all child care programs in North Carolina were closed as of April 21.
“Even before COVID-19 hit, many North Carolina communities faced a significant child care shortage. North Carolina is known as a ‘child care desert,’ where the demand for child care exceeds supply,” wrote Michele Rivest, policy director for the N.C. Early Education Coalition.
“Extended closures will put many of them out of business permanently, exacerbating the widespread child care deserts that exist in the state now,” Rivest said. “In a study conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, more than one-third of all North Carolina child care programs reported that they will not survive closing for more than two weeks.”
Scott said that as a Smart Start agency, the Children’s Council is collectively working with other county agencies and the N.C. Partnership for Children to appeal to legislators to offer some much needed funding assistance during this time to avoid permanent closures.
For more information about child care during COVID-19 in North Carolina, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/covid19/child-care.