BY WARREN DILLAWAY

warren@starbeacon.com

Sick children, sick workers, reduced revenues and more work have provided area daycare centers with challenges they could never have anticipated.

Daycare centers in Ashtabula County are monitored and inspected by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Assistance, said Ashtabula County Job and Family Services Executive Director Patrick Arcaro.

“We have a close working relationship with all licensed providers whether they are centers or in-home providers, as we determine eligibility for individuals applying for publicly funded child care which is defined as the care of infants, toddlers, pre-school children or school-age children and paid partially or completed by state or federal funds,” he said.

A family must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify, Arcaro said. He said daycare providers have had opportunities for assistance from thePaycheck Protection Program and Economic Disaster loans, through the pandemic.

Arcaro said there were 18 licensed centers that received the  funds at the start of the pandemic and only one is no longer operating. There were 24 in-home providers at the start of the pandemic and only two have not re-opened.

Numerous area daycare centers said helping school-age children — who are normally not in daycare for the bulk of the day — with their class work has been the biggest challenge of operating since the pandemic started.

Burns’ Kids College, on Main Avenue in Ashtabula, had to create a way to get more children onto the Internet.

“We had to have a computer guy come in her and revamp our system,” said Kelly Dunbar, administrator for the daycare facility.

“That was a lot of stress,” she said.

Dunbar said the center is licensed for 133 students but decided to stay at 52 in an attempt to keep everyone safe. She said having the same staff and families has “knock on wood” kept COVID-19 away.

The daycare center stayed open even during the spring of 2020.

“We were a special center,” Dunbar said of the designation that included carrying for children of essential workers.

Another challenge is the increased need for sanitization.

“It is still had to get sanitizing [supplies]. I have had gloves on order for six months,” she said.

Supplies have to be purchased at local stores instead of a supplier because of the increase in demand across the country.

ABC Child Care and Learning Center was closed from March 26 to May 31 due to a state mandate by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The center’s executive administrator, Larina Spring, said numbers are off from last year.

Spring said there were 282 students enrolled in January of 2020 and the number was 216 in January of this year. 

The center also had to close for six days around Christmas, Spring said. She said there were 80 students and employees quarantined at one point or another.

“Both administrators got COVID for Christmas,” Spring said.

“The hardest challenge for us has been the school-aged learning. It is very difficult,” said Kids Only Early Learning Center administrator Tammy McTrusty.

McTrusty said she had to hire additional staff to help the students. She said Ridgeview Elementary School administrators were very helpful, even coming to the center to make sure the students were able to use their electronic devices to receive lessons.

McTrusty said she operates four centers in Ashtabula Township, Geneva, Jefferson and Kingsville and they are operating below licensed allowable numbers due to the pandemic.

“I would say we are running 60 to 65 percent capacity,” McTrusty said.

McTrusty said the children have been great throughout the process.

“The children can acclimate better than us,” he said.

ABC Child Care and Learning Center Administrator Jodi van’t Veer also said working with online learning has been a challenge. She said they have had to put children of the same grades together.

She said the center also had to find more room for students to be socially distanced and had to close a room used for play and exercise.

Spring said some families haven’t come back because of concern about COVID-19.

The challenges of operating amidst a pandemic mean the staff does a lot of praying, van’t Veer said.

“Lots of coffee, chocolate and Vitamin C,” she said.

Spring said the Ashtabula County Department of Job and Family Services provided some relief back in the spring during the closure period.

Policies regarding when parents can come in the building and who transports the younger children to their classrooms has been a challenge.

“We were pulling wagons with children and it was awful,” she said.

Spring said an annual auction that usually raises $10,000 to provide extra supplies for children will not occur in its normal form. She said organizers are trying to put together a virtual auction.

Ashtabula County YMCA Learning Center enrollment is down. People are working from home so the demand is less, said YMCA Executive Director Trevor Sprague.

“Even though we could have a one to 18 ratio ... we are back to a one-to-six ratio,” Sprague said.

He said the need to monitor children on the Internet has increased staffing needs.

Lower enrollment, higher staffing and the state reimbursement rate have created a challenge from a finance standpoint, Sprague said. He said satellite daycare sites had to be closed.

“We are down to three sites,” Sprague said.

He said closures were in Andover, Orwell and Conneaut and occurred because of financial challenges.

Sprague said the YMCA is seeking funding to make sure parents who need daycare can find a safe option for their children.

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