25 Investigates: Mass. day cares to reopen during Phase 2, if they meet health & safety criteria

BOSTON — Massachusetts child care providers and day camps will be allowed to resume operations during the next phase of the state’s reopening plan, with very strict health and safety guidelines announced Monday by the Department of Early Education and Care [EEC].

Phase 2 is set to begin as early as June 8. Providers will need to demonstrate that they can comply with the strict health and safety guidelines before reopening.

25 Investigates pored over the 32-page document, which details requirements day care providers must implement to protect the health and safety of children and staff.

“I really just wish that day cares could open and we could all take our families back in, […] my biggest dream right now is just, let's open day cares,” said Joelle Lydon, a family childcare provider who operates out of her Marblehead home.

Lydon, who has been in business for nearly 20 years, said she has been eagerly awaiting guidance from the state on when she can reopen. She, like other day cares, was forced to close down in March due to COVID-19 concerns.

Last month 25 Investigates obtained a document that laid out some of the proposals for childcare by the EEC. It showed the agency was considering eliminating infant care. After some backlash, the agency announced infant care will remain but with very strict guidelines.

Under the guidance family childcare providers, like Lydon, will be allowed to operate with up to eight children and two adult providers. Previously, the maximum number of children was 10.

“My issue is going to be the ratios, the group care size, that type of thing,” Lydon told 25 Investigates’ Kerry Kavanaugh. “That's where my fears are that my regular clients aren't going to be able to come back and use me."

The changes will mostly impact larger group care facilities, according to Amy O’Leary, an early education expert with Strategies for Children.

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“So as programs reopen, they’re going to need help and support to think about health and safety screening measures for young children, and thinking about how you help support children’s social-emotional development, and maintain social distancing,” she said.

The guidance reduces ratios for pre-school and school-aged kids to 10, and that reduction could mean financial trouble for providers whose revenues will be cut.

“Pre COVID, our system was broken. We continue to fund per child per day they come. We may need to look at a different funding mechanism so that you're able to have funding in a way that you can support continuous operation of that program and not be reliant on if a child's coming in or not,” O’Leary added.

In addition, all day care providers will have to follow strict sanitizing protocols. Some of those measures include: ensuring all areas, materials, furniture and equipment used for child care are thoroughly sanitized each day, have a plan for identifying and handling sick and exposed children, and be able to isolate sick children until they can safely leave the building.

Infant care will largely remain unchanged, but providers will have to follow very strict protocols that include staff wearing gowns and eye protection, if possible, when holding, feeding and changing infants and toddlers.

Staff will also be required to frequently wash hands and other areas of the body that a child touches, such as neck and collarbone.

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