BOSTON — As businesses gradually reopen and employees start heading back to work, childcare is top of mind for many families.
With Massachusetts day cares closed until at least the end of June, families tell 25 Investigates they may need to choose between their livelihoods and their children’s safety.
When day cares finally reopen, 25 Investigates has learned they will look very different. An internal document exclusively obtained by investigative reporter Kerry Kavanaugh shows the state is evaluating a plan that would eliminate infant care, at least during the initial reopening phases.
The state has, so far, offered few details on when and how day cares can safely resume operations. Currently, the only childcare option available is through the emergency day cares set up for essential workers.
During Monday’s announcement of the state’s reopening plan, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito encouraged parents without safe childcare options to consider taking advantage of the emergency childcare centers, which are operating at only 35% capacity.
“During Phase 1, emergency childcare we have already in place will be utilized to meet the needs of people with no alternative for care,” she said. “The system has capacity to serve more families, to provide more care options as more workers head back and sectors become active again.”
But for working mom Victoria Morales of Mattapan that alternative is a nonstarter.
“I have a few reservations with the emergency childcare. My major one is because my son has a really rare genetic condition that is triggered, even just by the slightest fever. So putting him in an environment that we’re not familiar with, that he’s not familiar with, I can’t guarantee that he won’t get sick, said the mom of two, a 4-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. It’s just too many uncertainties.”
If their day care does not reopen soon, Morales said she will have to use personal time to care for her kids, as she does not have friends and family close by that she can entrust her kids’ care to.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, who sits on the state’s reopening advisory committee, agrees better childcare options are needed for working parents. But, he says the committee felt childcare was the one area where they need more information before any decisions are made.
“But, worse would be that we open these things up and we send kids to these places that don’t have the proper ability to open. Or, some kid gets it and you know, God forbid we start seeing children die,” Rivera told Boston 25 News.
25 Investigates has learned that the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is weighing several options for reopening daycares during the pandemic. One plan the agency is evaluating would place minimum requirements on childcare providers. According to the document we obtained the requirements include: “Group sizes must be restricted to a maximum of 10 individuals in each room, including children and staff, Children must remain with the same group each day and at all times while in care [and] Infant care will not be an option at this time.”
We asked the Governor’s Office and EEC multiple times about the proposal to temporarily suspend infant care. The Governor’s Office did not acknowledge our inquiry and EEC did not answer our question directly. In an emailed statement the agency spokeswoman said: “The Department of Early Education and Care is currently working with the Department of Public Health and the Administration’s Command Center to determine next steps for child care. EEC understands that all decisions have an impact on providers and will keep in close communication with providers before final decisions are made.”
The lack of answers and clarity does not sit well with new mom, Emily Williams, whose maternity leave is coming to an end soon.
“We’re dealing with an unprecedented amount of uncertainty. And the sooner we can start preparing for what our options are, the better,” said the mother of a 10-week old baby boy. “We are on the waitlist for several daycares. We haven’t gotten any information from them on their plans for reopening or what they’re going to do with infants. So if the new policy is that there is no infant care, we’re going to have to look at other options.”
Williams said she would consider hiring a nanny or going in on a nanny share, but even that brings about a whole new set of concerns for her.
“If there is no infant care, and people are looking into nannies or nanny shares as a backup, suddenly there's a question on whether or not there's going to be enough suitable candidates there as well,” said Williams.
A phased reopening of childcare is expected to begin under phase two of the state plan, if public health data shows it is safe to do so.
But when day cares reopen they will have to follow strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health and safety guidelines, such as face masks for people over two, social distancing and thorough disinfection and sanitization.
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