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A provider’s perspective on operating a child care business during the pandemic

[Editor's Note: Mariah Stowe testified before the Nebraska Legislature's Appropriations Committee on LR390, an interim study to assess the fiscal and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nebraska's early childhood workforce and the early childhood care and education system. She is a member of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission and owns Splash of Color Child Care in Lincoln. This blog post is adapted from Stowe’s written testimony.]

Owning a business has its ups and downs, but nothing has been quite as challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many decisions to be made in a short period of time. Deciding whether to stay open—by analyzing the needs of the children’s families and my employees, while considering my own family’s safety—was a large undertaking.

There was no way of knowing if I was making the right decision. It was hard to look at recommendations about social distancing and apply them to my business where we care for and cuddle young children all day long. They do not social distance, nor would I expect them to, but could I take that risk and ask my staff to take that risk with me?

Could not afford to close
To help me decide, I had several conversations with my staff and my husband. I sent surveys to families to get an understanding of what they needed. It finally came down to the fact that we could not afford to close, and we wanted to provide some sense of normalcy for the children in the program. So, we adapted. We upped our cleaning, added Zoom calls and home-learning kits for the children at home and implemented new policies that accommodated the information coming out.

By staying open we were able to continue serving six children and ensure that those 12 parents could continue working. Of the six children, three have parents who work in health care at Bryan, the Heart Hospital and Madonna. They did not have the option to work from home. If I had closed, I don’t know what those parents would have done, and on such short notice. The other three children came to the program because their parents could not work from home and also care for young children. Child care was and is still needed, whether parents  are working in the home or out.

Family child care providers like me typically care for eight to 12 children depending on the type of license we have. We help these children play, learn, explore, manage their feelings, share with others and so much more before they get to kindergarten. We know children learn best through play, so we do everything we can to ensure the play is beneficial and allows them to grow to their fullest potential in every area. Every moment they are with me, they’re learning.

Helping parents stay in the workforce
In our program, we assess the children to ensure they continue to grow in different developmental areas. The play is geared to challenge them to develop these skills. We also do screenings to ensure we catch any potential concerns so intervention services can begin early. However, we’re not just educating children. When we care for these eight to 12 children, we’re also helping parents stay in the workforce. One home provider alone can impact 16 to 24 working parents.

Through this challenging time, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has helped child care providers by sharing information about local requirements and grant opportunities to help them stay afloat. Without that funding, a lot more programs would have closed. DHHS is also trying to help closed programs reopen when possible. They have made decisions quickly, and I would like to thank them for taking steps that have helped both children and families, as well as child care providers.

I’m here today so you can better understand what one child care program can do—and does do—in an ordinary day in Nebraska: Nurture children and help parents in the workforce at a critical time for our economy. I don’t know what will happen as the pandemic continues or worsens this coming winter. While I’ve been able to adapt, it has not been easy and many programs have not been able to figure out a way to keep going. Please understand it is a very uncertain and difficult time to be a child care provider.

Mariah Stowe
Owner, Splash of Color Child Care

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