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Five child care centers remain open in county

Photo submitted Children are still being cared for at the Evergreen Child Development Center, one of five county sites with pandemic licenses.

The whiplash of COVID-19 has especially affected child care. First schools closed, with the associated anxiety for working parents who needed someplace for their children during job hours. Then, non-essential businesses were closed, putting many of those same parents out of work and removing the need for child care.

Then state orders closed child care operations. Now, a few have re-opened under a special pandemic license, but they are restricted to caring only for the children of essential services, such as medical personnel and first responders.

Five such licenses have been issued for Washington County, three in Marietta and two in Belpre.

Peggy Deer has worked at The Promise Place Training Center on Front Street since is was established in 1998 and been director for the past four years. The center is affiliated with The Celebration Center of Marietta church. It would ordinarily have more than 40 children to care for.

On Thursday, it had nine.

“We closed yesterday, and re-opened today with a pandemic child care license,” she said. “We’re operating but we have about 80 percent fewer children. Those we have, their parents either are first responders or essential services workers.”

Deer said the center can accept more children – those who are still at the center were clients before the pandemic – but the demand appears to be absent.

“We haven’t received any new enrollments, we’ve had a few calls,” she said. “We can take more, but the need is not there.”

In addition to the normal hygienic procedures, she said, the center has implemented further measures for safety.

“We clean and sanitize constantly, and I was just putting new batteries in our thermometers,” she said. “We take the temperatures of the kids before they enter, and the staff, too. We have one staff member per room, and they don’t move from room to room. We constantly wash our hands and the children, too, but that’s always been the rule.”

A COVID-19 infection in the facility would not only pose a danger to health but also take away one more resource during the pandemic.

“We will continue to be here as long as we’re healthy, but as soon as one child or staff member tests positive, we’re shut down,” Deer said.

In more than 20 years with the center, Deer said, she’s not seen anything like this crisis.

“We pride ourselves on keeping open, even during the snow days,” she said.

Two child care services remain open in Belpre, but like others in the state can care only for children of essential services personnel.

Toni Teters at Miss Peggy’s House on Lee Street said the facility has only a few children.

“It’s kids of health care workers, mainly,” she said. “We have 12, and basically we’re full.”

The pandemic license limits ratios of staff to children in a manner that specifies a maximum group size of six children, she said.

The center, during normal weekday operations when school is in session, would have 40 or more children, she said. The center would like to serve more people but are limited by staffing numbers, she said, with some of the staff having opted not to work.

“We did go back and forth on it, but we had to do what we thought was right,” she said. “The few children we have here are children of medical personnel. We had to take into account everyone’s safety, and this is the best option, less traffic and exposure.”

Teters said she’s been working in child care for 25 years.

“I 100-percent agree with everyone else, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

Laura Lovely, director of Bundles of Joy child care on Stone Road, said her center was down to eight children on Thursday. Normally there would be 25 or 30.

“We’ve got kids of health care workers and first responders,” she said, adding that those children had been clients of the center before the COVID-19 crisis.

“The ratio of staff to children has changed, but our procedures haven’t changed much, we always washed a lot,” she said.

“We’re trying to muddle through this, I like to think that we’ve lost some clients temporarily, until things get back to normal,” she said.

Memorial Health System has its own child care operation for personnel, Evergreen Child Development Center on Colegate Drive.

Memorial director of marketing Sarah Holt said that operation has changed little, other than adjustments for the six-child maximum group size regulation under the pandemic license terms.

“We have seen a decrease in children, but we anticipate that others who recently lost child care to be added,” Holt said.

Temperature checks before admittance to the building are in force for children and staff members, she said, and the normal cleaning and sterilization have been intensified.

“We will continue to care for the children of those brave individuals that care for all of us. We have a dedicated team of teachers and a director to support our mission,” said Dan Weaver, Memorial director of human resources.

The third pandemic licensed center in Marietta, the Marietta Family YMCA, was granted a pandemic child care license but as yet has no clients, executive director Rob O’Hara said Thursday.

“We think Job and Family Service might send us anywhere between one and four children, and if the need arises we’re ready to open next week,” he said. “It might be people who have lost care at another center. We can take people who contact us if they qualify, but I think the approach by JFS is to get a critical mass of kids in one center and then move on to another.”

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

Status of child care in Washington County:

• All facilities closed except those operating under a pandemic license.

• Only children of parents or caregivers designated as essential services can be enrolled.

• Five pandemic licenses issued in the county: Marietta Family YMCA, Evergreen Child Development Center, The Promise Place Training Center, Miss Peggy’s House and Bundles of Joy.

Source: Ohio Jobs and Family Services.

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