Finding child care is among the list of challenges families face during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for frontline workers. Tack on virtual learning and up-ended work hours, and 2020 has caused undue stress on many families.
Some Midland County organizations and foundations have partnered up to help parents receive or find quality, affordable child care — and in some cases, pay for it.
Micki Gibbs, director of Midland County Great Start Collaborative, understands the varying demands that families are now encountering.
Micki Gibbs is the director of the Great Start Collaborative of the Midland County Educational Service Agency.“Not everyone works those traditional hours or can work from home. It can be frustrating, not only to be able to afford child care but to find a place that’s close to home. Families are being challenged,” says Gibbs, adding, “[this year] has been a rollercoaster ride.”
Parents who work in the healthcare field or in the restaurant or grocery store business find that their hours and shifts change at a moment’s notice, therefore, child care can be hard to find.
“It’s a great place to start. We want to help, and the providers want to help,” Gibbs says about the Great Start Collaborative.
Gibbs understands that quality child care can be expensive. Since there is a range of child care options available, i.e., home-based or child care centers, there are people able to help line families up with their preferred setting to meet their individual needs.
Gibbs says Midland County Great Start Collaborative has information that parents can access for help to find “affordable, quality child care.” She encourages parents who are looking for child care or preschool to seek out the website greatstartmidland.org and click greatstarttoquality.org.
“The child care providers in Midland County are well-equipped to handle today’s challenges,” Gibbs says, including helping parents find child care that accommodates virtual learning for school-aged children.
Holly Miller, United Way (UW) of Midland County president and CEO, agrees that the pandemic has created many “situational issues for families,” and that UW recognized those issues and offered to help.
“We had to figure out how we could hold up some of these families through the Stay Home, Stay Safe order back in March, when the need for child care arose for those families, including frontline workers,” says Miller.
Photo courtesy of Sanford Elementary Early Childhood Center. Please note: This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At that point, UW offered $92,000 in scholarships that provided child care for 63 children in Midland County.
The scholarships went to licensed child care providers to help those families, and were made possible with the help of area foundations. Child care providers submitted the applications on the families’ behalf, along with a statement of need to the UW.
“If there’s one thing 2020 has shown us is that life is unpredictable,” Miller says. “We want to be a buoy for [the families]. The community showed a need, and organizations stepped up. We want people to know that there are resources out there to help them.”
Photo courtesy of Sanford Elementary Early Childhood Center. Please note: This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.Another scholarship will be made available this month for area families. The dollar amount has not yet been confirmed, she says.
One family that benefited from the UW scholarship is John and Ferren Rittenburg of Hope Township. The couple both work for Community Mental Health for Central Michigan and found that working from home while raising two young children during the Stay Home, Stay Safe order was becoming difficult. Receiving the scholarship for child care was “a huge relief.”
“We didn’t qualify for any assistance. We’re kind of that middle-level income family. [Child care] is a huge expense,” John says, adding that the cost of child care weighed heavy, especially during the unpredictability of a pandemic. “With that [scholarship], we were able to put some money aside for an emergency or incidental purchases.”
Knowing their children were cared for close to home, and that their oldest child was assisted with virtual learning, was a comfort.
“It was hard while my wife would be in one room taking calls with a client and I would be [in] another while our daughter was asking us questions about school,” says John. “It wasn't feasible with the nature of our work — confidentiality, and privacy of our consumers. It was difficult at times, for sure.”
Julie Sheets, early intervention coordinator at Sanford Early Childhood Center, a part of Meridian Public Schools, says their child care center has remained open through the pandemic and area flooding. The center has 87 children ages pre-K through 5th grade, servicing 80 families. Two paraprofessionals at the center help students with virtual classes and school work.
When the schools closed for the Stay Home, Stay Safe order in March, families with frontline workers needed child care to continue so that they could go to work.
Photo courtesy of Sanford Elementary Early Childhood Center.“And then the flood happened,” Sheets says. “Families were scrambling. A lot of our families chose to stay home, but many didn’t have that choice.”
Sheets says parents were relieved when the center did not close in the spring and summer. Parents worried about how they would manage their work schedules and help their children with their schoolwork once class started again in September.
“We’re helping students stay on track,” says Sheets. “The Sanford Early Childhood Center is open to any family living in or out of the school district.”
For more information on Midland County child care options, visit https://greatstartmidland.org