As stay-at-home and shelter-in-place restrictions relax across the country, reopening of public spaces proceeds, albeit unevenly. When faced with the option to reopen, you must decide whether your day care business can and should do so, and then you’ll need to implement your selected course of action. You’ll have many questions to answer, ones you probably have not ever needed to before ask. To help you and your team more smoothly begin operations again, as safely as possible, review this guide for reopening a child care center during COVID-19.
Most Important Elements of a Reopening Plan
Any reopening plan will of course be tailored to your unique facility, the families you serve, and the community you operate within. But all plans require careful thought and must address at least two core concerns: safety and communication.
Safety of Staff, Children, Families, and Communities
The safety of the children and staff has always been paramount when it comes to providing your child care services. This global pandemic brings health and safety concerns even more to the forefront. When you reopen, you will need to incorporate additional precautions to minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. In addition to considering and mitigating risks to the children and staff in your child care center, you must be mindful of their families and the communities where they live.
Communication, Communication, and Dialogue
Whenever your policies or processes change, you need to communicate those changes to your staff, your clients, and applicable regulating agencies. Communication about reopening will be even more extensive and more frequent. When dealing with parents’ and families’ fears, with the many unknowns for staff, and with the demands of local authorities, there is no such thing as over-communicating.
- Be in contact and monitor developments with local public health agencies and state oversight agencies regarding cases and possible exposures to COVID-19.
- Provide ongoing updates to staff about changes to operations and how they will be impacted.
- Regularly communicate with families regarding updates to policies and procedures.
Allow opportunities for feedback loops from all stakeholders, and engage in dialogue with client families and employees regularly.
How to Decide to Reopen Your Child Care Center
The pressure to reopen likely comes from several angles. From a business standpoint, you probably are eager for your revenue stream to begin again. Your staff may be eager for a paycheck or a purpose again. Parents and guardians returning to work might rely on your child care program. But the decision to reopen your day care facility should not be taken lightly and should consider regulatory requirements, client needs, staff availability, and facility ability to adequately operate under these conditions.
Consult Local, State, and Federal Orders
Familiarize yourself with the most current guidance from state agencies, local jurisdictions, and federal entities such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If information conflicts, then follow the most restrictive guidelines in most cases. For example, the Washington State Department of Health guidance for child care centers in maintaining health and safety standards applies in most instances to child care facilities throughout the state, but in King County, which has been especially impacted with cases of COVID-19, the Department of Public Health – Seattle & King County issued additional guidelines, such as a requirement to notify the department of any cases. Both sets of guidelines frequently reference CDC recommendations.
Distinguish between actions that are required versus just recommended. Decide whether reopening will be consistent with the applicable local and state orders.
Query Parents to Gauge Their Preferences and Concerns
If there will be limited demand for your child care services, then reopening might not be warranted. Some parents might now be unemployed, some might be awaiting your reopening so they can return to work. Contact your client families, and ask if they plan to resume using your child care center. Find out when your services will be needed and to what degree. Also ask what concerns they have that pertain to risks, preventive measures, or other matter. Better understanding of their concerns will allow you to better address these issues, either through implementing changes or acknowledging in future communications.
Survey Staff Availability and Concerns
Find out which of your staff will not be returning to work, who is available to begin right away, and who might have their return delayed. Take the opportunity to ask about concerns they might hold about possible operational changes, scheduling, etc.
Assess Your Capacity and Ability to Safely Open
Will you have staff available to provide care and trained on new safety precautions? Will you be able to make the necessary modifications to the physical spaces and changes to policies for a safe reopening? Realistically review your capacity and ability for ensuring a reopening as safe as possible. This assessment should include a review of your finances for financial viability, given the anticipated revenue may be lower than before COVID-19 and additional expenses, such as cleaning products and personal protective equipment (PPE), will be needed.
Once You Decide to Reopen
The steps below should occur before you welcome children back into your center, but the order of occurrence is provided as a suggested chronology only. Your timeline for reopening might follow a more compressed schedule, if your state gives a short notice.
A Few Weeks Before Opening
The weeks before reopening should be allocated primarily to planning and policies.
- Review your state’s COVID-19 specific licensing requirements and make sure you comply with mandated measures.
- Familiarize yourself with any applicable local guidance either for reopening businesses in general or specific to child care programs.
- Stay current on CDC guidelines for recommended best practices, such as its Guidance for Child Care Programs That Remain Open.
- Decide upon daily drop-off and pick-up procedures, any mask requirements, cleaning and disinfection procedures, daily health screening procedures for children and staff, and the logistics of daily activities such as meals, naps, and play time.
- Edit your current handbook to reflect changes made to policies in response to COVID-19.
- Update your agreement with families, as needed.
- Make plans for another temporary shutdown if one should occur.
- Plan for staff training prior to reopening.
- Budget for new expenses, such as cleaning supplies and PPE.
- Review children’s files to be sure information is up-to-date, especially the agreement, medical history, and list of emergency contacts.
The Week Before the Reopening
About a week in advance of reopening, prepare staff, the facility, and families.
- Train staff on your child care center’s new policies and procedures, especially hygiene practices and identification of COVID-19 symptoms. Be sure expectations regarding their use of PPE and social distancing (if at all possible) are clearly communicated, along with the need to self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if sick.
- Deep clean and disinfect the entire facility, following CDC’s guidance.
- Communicate all changes with families, and prepare them for what to expect, including hours of operation, new drop-off and pick-up procedures, any social distancing requirements, restrictions on what children should bring with them to the day care program and what they cannot bring, and instructions for the child to stay home when sick.
- If applicable, notify county, state agency, or other local jurisdiction about your scheduled reopening.
The Day Before You Reopen Your Day Care
- Double-check no updated guidance has been issued.
- Send an email or text to parents confirming their drop-off time and reminding them of the drop-off procedures, health screening, and any items children should bring with them.
- Communicate with staff, confirming their arrival time at the center and any PPE items they should bring.
- Get a good night of sleep.
After Reopening Your Child Care Center
- Stay aware of changes in community infection rates, recommended or required guidelines, and licensing obligations.
- Continually monitor the health of staff and children, noting absences or signs of illness.
- Follow protocols for reporting any COVID-19 cases to your local health department.
- Regularly check in with staff about any issues, proposed changes to procedures, their well-being, policy reminders, etc.
Operating a child care center before the COVID-19 crisis had its challenges. Most, if not all, the challenges remain, though many now are amplified and are in addition to the difficulties brought by COVID-19. As you contemplate reopening your day care program, you face tough questions and hard choices while navigating largely unchartered territory. Resources are available to aid you in answering these questions and help in decision-making. Honest Buck Accounting is one of those resources available to assist you and your child care business.