Here Are DC-Area Child Care Resources and Coping Tips as the Pandemic Continues

Family working from home with a baby
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Every month, dozens of parents in the Georgetown University community participate in a discussion group. Despair has been a recurring emotion on recent Zoom calls as participants, mostly mothers, talk about how hard it’s been to simultaneously try to work and take care of their children during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“People are just hanging on by a fingernail. The endlessness of it is leading people to have a constant refrain in their head of ‘I can’t handle this. This is impossible,’” said Paige Trevor, the certified parent educator who leads the calls. 

As the pandemic continues to change daily life in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, we have tips on how to find child care, evaluate whether it’s safe and cope as you handle it all.

Coping Tips 

First, let’s try to get our anxiety level under control. Trevor had this advice. She’s a mother of two children in their early 20s and has been a parent educator in the D.C. area for the past 14 years. 

Your main job is to “protect your own nervous system.” Prioritize sleep, exercise and eating well, even if you can only do so in “micro doses.” Try to keep yourself calm at a “base, physiological level,” including by reducing alcohol consumption and not looking at your phone before bedtime.

Reach out to your “village” and expand it. You really can’t do this alone. Take advantage of resources your child’s school has, such as a counselor. Many women are carrying a particular burden and may need to ask for more help.

Take time to connect with and play with your kids. Try not to get angry with them over behavior that is developmentally appropriate. “Liking your kid is going to be huge” as the pandemic stretches on. 

Empower yourself with words and give yourself some grace. How we speak to ourselves impacts how we feel. 

The Parent Encouragement Program (PEP), has several free resources available, including a webinar Trevor offered on parenting survival strategies during the pandemic

A child care crisis is growing due to COVID-19. The News4 I-Team found almost one in three licensed child care centers in our region is closed, and things are expected to get worse. Scott MacFarlane reports many of those struggling to remain open say they’re approaching financial collapse.

Is It Safe to Send Your Child Back to Day Care? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t give an across-the-board answer on whether its safe for children to go back to day care. 

“​It depends on where you live, your family's needs, and the steps your child care facility takes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” guidance on the group’s website says

AAP recommends talking with your health care provider and looking at how the facility is disinfected, whether the staff checks everyone’s temperature and which policies are in place if someone tests positive. 

ProPublica reporters who combed through data on children and the virus recommended assessing the risks the virus poses to your household, family and community. Your emotional well-being counts. And, as always, your budget, work schedule and other responsibilities play a big role in what’s possible for you. 

Are Day Care Centers Open? 

Day care centers are now allowed to operate in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. But almost 40% of all child care centers in the area have temporarily or permanently closed since the beginning of the year, reporting by the News4 I-Team shows. More than 5,000 facilities are still closed. 

In Maryland, 5,047 child care providers remain open, while 2,811 have closed. Virginia’s child care agency reports 3,715 facilities are open, with 2,324 closed. In the District, the I-Team found just 111 licensed facilities are open, with 358 closed.

The Zipcodes With the Highest Concentration of Children in the DMV

This map shows the percent of children per zipcode (circle color) and the total count of children per zipcode (circle size).

Source: American Community Survey - US Census 2018 5-Year Estimates
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

Some facilities may never reopen as they face COVID-19 safety restrictions, capacity reductions, uncertainty over schools reopening and layoffs of parents who typically require child care, the I-Team reported. Long wait lists for infant care could become a larger problem.

Local child care centers are scrambling to reopen or stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, and a News4 I-Team investigation shows a different set of child care programs are in jeopardy. Scott MacFarlane reports their fates and chances of survival are in the hands of local school districts.

Home Child Care Centers and Nannies

Some families are opting to hire nannies or use home child care centers in the hope that their child would be exposed to fewer people than they would at a day care center. 

Home child care providers in D.C. and Maryland are required to be licensed. Maryland temporarily waived licensing of sites approved for school-age children of essential workers. But that exception will end on Monday, July 20, the News4 Consumer Team reported. The state is offering grants of up to $1,000 for new providers to become licensed.

In Virginia, home child care providers must be licensed if they have five or more children in their care. Providers in Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County have additional requirements.

With many child care centers forced to close or limit the number of children, parents are now turning to in-home child care as an option. Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan reports on how to pick a safe one for your kids.

Child Care Help From State and Local Government 

If you live in D.C. and need help finding child care, the city recommends contacting its DC Child Care Connections program. Online resources are available and the staff may be able to provide a referral. 

In Maryland, the Maryland Family Network can provide help. In Virginia, Child Care Aware serves families. 

If You’re Keeping Your Child Home With You

If you’re working from home and taking care of your child at the same time, you’re not the only one who’s struggling. A Pennsylvania couple, both university professors, tracked how often their children interrupted them as they tried to work. On the plus side, they were able to work for two-and-a-half hours of a three-hour period. On the minus side, the parent on duty was interrupted an average of 15 times an hour. 

“The average length of an uninterrupted stretch of work time was three minutes, 24 seconds. The longest uninterrupted period was 19 minutes, 35 seconds. The shortest was mere seconds,” the parents, Suzanne M. Edwards and Larry Snyder, wrote for The Washington Post

Take advantage of every resource available to you, whether it’s an online activity from the Smithsonian or child care help for a few hours from a trusted friend. 

When you’re overwhelmed, lean in to it for a moment, Trevor, the parenting expert, said. 

“Accept feeling bad. Sit in feeling bad. Then we can come up with some solutions,” she said. 

While schools across the area lay out different plans for back-to-school, parents have been left to figure out what is best for their family. News4's Shomari Stone spoke with several parents who are trying to figure out how to make virtual learning work.
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