Caring for Children of Healthcare Workers

Blog Post
April 15, 2020

When Kidango, a large preschool and child care provider in the Bay Area, reopened centers to serve the children of health care workers and first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Executive Officer Scott Moore told his staff they were going to be needed.

“I told them ‘We really need you guys right now because otherwise we are not going to be able to save lives.’”

Kidango closed its centers in mid March but has since reopened 10 centers in response to requests from county governments, First Five Santa Clara County, and large health care providers. Two of the emergency centers are located in hospitals and others are near health care facilities.

Starlesha Goodwin who works as an outpatient registration supervisor for Washington Hospital in Fremont, Calif., is bringing her 7-month-old to the Kidango center on the hospital grounds.

“With everything going on in the world, it’s very important to know that your child is safe,” she said.

While Kidango has reopened, it’s operating very differently than before this crisis.

“We are in close conversation with public health authorities to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect people’s health,” Moore said.

In addition to overdrive cleaning and sanitizing, the biggest change is that children are in stable groups of ten only (down from a typical classroom of 24) with the same teachers. In order to minimize interactions with other students and teachers, they don’t for example play outside at the same time as children in other groups.

Kidango is providing hazard pay of $20 an hour on top of their regular pay, a level of compensation Moore said he felt was important both to acknowledge the risk teachers are taking and the essential nature of their work during the pandemic.

“There are companies like Amazon or Walmart that might be paying $2 an hour more,” he said. “And I just thought this is a time where we can actually, finally pay early childhood educators a professional wage. It might only be temporary, but darn it we are going to do it. So we went with the $20 [extra] an hour, which got some raised eyebrows from my colleagues around the state.”

Kidango is still receiving funding from the state and from the federal Head Start program, and centers can use that funding more flexibly now. In addition, they expect to receive additional funding from the state and federal governments and private foundations. An April order from Governor Newson allows essential workers to use state-subsidized child care and preschool programs while schools are closed regardless of their income.

Kidango is also paying special attention to the emotional health of children and families, both those attending their emergency centers and those at home. Kidango serves primarily low-income families and Moore said that the top request is for help in filing for unemployment.

Children are reacting to the stress as well. The emergency child care classrooms can be a new place for some children, with new teachers and new routines for others. Children are also old enough to understand that all their friends are being told to stay home because it’s not safe. “That is super scary,” Moore says. Mental health clinicians in the centers are working to buffer this stress, he said. “Really it is about just providing care. That’s the job. It is to really be loving, nurturing and safe.”

Kidango has set up a support line for families and staff. Teachers at home are working to connect with families through virtual home visits and are helping families meet basic needs like food, as well as find books and toys for the children.

Moore said this crisis is shining a light on the crucial nature of caregiving to the fabric of our lives. Early childhood teachers are some of “the most important professionals in our society,” he said. “And what they do is essential and we can’t do without it. And when a crisis hits, we need them. It’s a great recognition of what we in the field have known all along.”

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For more stories about overcoming the challenges of COVID-19, check out New America’s Strengthening Child Care and Early Education: Learning from COVID-19 page.

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