Paisley Allen, left, and Stella Good, both 4, enjoy some playtime at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Paisley Allen, left, and Stella Good, both 4, enjoy some playtime at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Clallam’s childcare crunch: Community leaders explore options

Location expansion, training some ways discussed to help

SEQUIM — Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials say Sequim and Clallam County’s childcare services have been at capacity.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand and decrease in supply,” Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush said.

The City of Sequim was tasked by Clallam County’s Emergency Operations Center to help alleviate the issue across the county with multiple stakeholders. Bush said that, dating back about six weeks, there were only eight slots available for children ages 5-12 in Clallam County.

“If you’re a parent, you’re getting super lucky if you get a spot,” he said.

Regulations for social and physical distancing and capacity have impacted many child care providers in the county with 23 percent still closed today, Bush said.

Using Prevention Works research, childcare providers in Clallam County estimate they have lost about $900,000 since March. To meet health restriction standards, many facilities have added staff to accommodate smaller group sizes, which affects businesses’ slim profit margins already, Bush said.

The city continues to meet with community leaders to plan for changes, including possible modified public school schedules.

“We’re starting to think that, if parents don’t have places for their kids to go, then this becomes a big inhibitor for local businesses,” Bush said.

As one effort to find solutions, Clallam County commissioners look to dedicate $110,000 for childcare efforts for funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Mary Budke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, said the club, Olympic Peninsula YMCA and the William Shore Memorial Pool District are collaborating on options across the North Olympic Peninsula.

“We’re gonna be ready to go on something,” she said.

Teachers at Bibity Bobity day care push children on the swings during an outside play time last week. As some of the provisions at the center, parents must remain in the lobby, staff and children’s temperatures are taken, and social distancing is required between age groups. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Teachers at Bibity Bobity day care push children on the swings during an outside play time last week. As some of the provisions at the center, parents must remain in the lobby, staff and children’s temperatures are taken, and social distancing is required between age groups. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Specifics aren’t set yet, Budke said, but solutions could include staff sharing and offering expanded services with social distancing, smaller cohorts and more with a pop-up location at a local church, convention center and/or school.

“It’s wide open to where we’re needed,” Budke said. “What’s consistent is that it’s affordable care for children and being open and flexible.”

Bush said a large portion of their efforts include expanding services and seeing if existing private childcare providers have any capacity to grow.

Because of stricter guidelines for daycare facilities for children 5 and younger, it’s harder to “stand up a preschool,” he said.

One option, Bush said, is expanded babysitter training to increase options for families.

The YMCA of Sequim is offering a virtual babysitter training course for certification for ages 11-15 for two hours a day on July 16, 18 and 20 (fees apply).

To register or for more information, contact Gail Sumpter at [email protected] or 360-477-4381, ext. 310.

Ground floor

To keep their facility open and their children with them, Erin Bell and Helana Coddington, co-owners of Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center, 191 W. Sequim Bay Road, received an emergency waiver so their school-aged children could be at the 5-and-under facility.

Without it, the co-owners said they might have had to stay at their homes with their children.

“As a parent, I’m worried about what I’m able to do,” Bell said. “Our priority was to stay open for families.”

Some of her staff opted to stay home with their families during the pandemic, leading her to reduce hours, reduce the number of available openings for children, and hire and train new staff members in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Enrollment numbers dropped by about half for children ages 1 month to 5 years old starting in March, but they began to pick back up once Clallam County went into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan.

Bell said they split the preschool into groups of 10 inside and outside with one teacher to nine children. With social-distancing requirements in place, however, the facility couldn’t accommodate more parents’ varying schedules.

“As for future plans, Bell plans to keep the split preschool model because “you can’t social distance young children.

“You can’t keep them 6 feet apart,” she said.

“(The kids) are pretty resilient. We hear them a lot say, ‘I wish this virus would go away.’ They feel it.”

Support

At Carlsborg’s Bibity Bobity, 11 Childers Lane, owner-director Nicole Goettling said she saw numbers drop temporarily to about half for the center’s ages 1 month to 13 years old. They remained open with statewide provisions in place.

Now their attendance is about level with pre-COVID-19 days, Goettling said, with some families staying home because of parents losing their jobs or being concerned about the virus.

One thing that’s helped is the state waiving co-payments for families with childcare subsidy benefits, but that ends in July, Goettling said.

“(The state) was definitely paying us to stay open,” she said.

But Goettling said parents have been worried about when the co-pays resume and federal stimulus monies for the unemployed end.

Bibity Bobity also received some grants and loans, too, which Goettling said has helped “tremendously.”

Along with social distancing, and other provisions, she opened the facility up to older children all day rather than just after 3 p.m. due to public schools closing and opting for distance learning.

That added difficulties for staff as they tried to help older children with homework along with their regular instruction with younger children.

“Getting (older children) to do (homework) wasn’t very successful,” she said.

Depending on Sequim School District’s schedule in the fall, Goettling said she will have to weigh whether or not to add a teacher for older students. That’s dependent, however, on licensing regulations and space.

“At the same time, I honestly don’t think I would have a room for them until after 11:30 a.m. because we do a preschool class,” she said.

Safety

Childcare centers have multiple provisions in place to minimize spreading germs and the coronavirus. At Bibity Bobity, parents can’t go past the lobby, no shoes are allowed inside, and they’re doing temperature checks.

Budke said they ask children at the Sequim and Port Angeles clubs to wash their hands every 30 minutes because “it’s our best defense to preventing it.”

At the Port Angeles club, two girls in the same cohort became ill and were tested for the coronavirus. Their tests came back negative, she said.

Keeping children in the same small cohort and taking temperatures before children come in and before they leave helps catch something potentially early, Budke said.

“If something happens, we wouldn’t have to shut down our programs like the free meal programs, and keep our staff safe,” she said.

The YMCA in Port Angeles will continue to offer emergency child care through Aug. 14. Childcare runs from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Dry Creek Elementary School. Parents can drop off their children from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and pick them up from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Capacity for care is eight children and two staff members.

Once Clallam County moves to phase 3, YMCA officials may offer care for more children but they are waiting to get more information from the state.

For more information, contact our Childcare Coordinator, Montesz Kelley-Shears at [email protected].

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