Essential workers increasingly turn to emergency child care centers

Essential workers increasingly turn to emergency child care centers

Massachusetts has 540 emergency child care centers up and running to help parents who can’t stay home with their children during the coronavirus outbreak.

The centers run on a first-come, first-serve basis for the children of essential workers at no cost to them.

As essential workers run out of other options and need to send their kids to group care, the child care centers are getting busier, according to one director of an emergency child care center.

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The Executive Office of Education said the state expected the centers to care for 3,000 children on Monday, after an average of 2,500 per day last week.

“Initially I just thought this is going to be impossible,” said Cambridge Police officer Catherine McCarthy, an essential employee and single mom.

With Gov. Charlie Baker closing daycares and schools through at least May 4, McCarthy said she was in a bind, even with Massachusetts’ emergency child care center system.

“Not all of them would take children over the age of 6,” McCarthy said.

Then she found the Metrowest YMCA in Framingham, which has been looking after her three children, Madeline, 10, Jackson, 6 and Bradley, 5, for several days over the past two weeks.

“It’s still difficult for them as well,” McCarthy said of her kids. “Especially my fourth-grader. She misses school.”

Heidi Kaufman, the executive director of education at Metrowest YMCA, said, “We were [a] little concerned that the stress from the adults would be rubbing off on them, but for the most part they don’t seem to mind.”

Kaufman said she has had to revamp a curriculum that usually encourages sharing, taking turns and teamwork.

"Now that’s completely out the window because we’re trying to keep the kids as far apart as possible,” Kaufman said. “We’re just trying to keep them safe and engaged.”

She said most of the children of essential workers being looked after now don’t normally attend the Metrowest Y.

McCarthy said she’s grateful that she found an option for her family and that she’s taking it day by day.

“It’s a lot going on for everybody,” McCarthy said. “Honestly what gets me through is thinking we’re all in this together.”

Right now, the centers are set to be open through the length of Gov. Baker’s school and daycare closure orders through May 4.