CASA GRANDE — Although area schools are closed for several weeks due to the coronavirus, for some child care centers it’s business as usual with a few twists.
“We’re still open,” said Kim McCreery, owner of Grow with Grace Learning Center in Casa Grande. “I know a few others are as well.”
While schools are governed by the state Department of Education, private child care facilities are licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which has not issued an order of closure. On its website, the department lists guidelines for centers choosing to stay open during the coronavirus period.
McCreery, who opened Grow with Grace Learning Center in 2013, said the facility is serving an important role for the community by remaining open for the parents and children who need child care.
“We have a lot of parents who work in critical jobs and have to go to work. They still need child care,” she said. “Some of our parents are firefighters, nurses and police officers. They still have to go in to work, so we’re open to serve them.”
Grow with Grace Learning Center is a private, licensed facility that cares for about 40 children between the ages of 1 and 5, full time. It employs seven preschool teachers.
As of last week, with the coronavirus forcing many families into a period of self-distancing, attendance was down by about 50%.
“We expected some absences due to spring break, but operating at 50% isn’t something we can sustain long-term,” McCreery said. “Child care centers usually operate on very thin margins so if things stay like this much longer, it could have a very negative impact on the child care industry.”
To ensure that everyone stays healthy, McCreery and her staff are cleaning toys and surfaces throughout the day, but she said that’s part of the normal routine at the center.
“It’s hard to get kids to practice social distancing, but we are working with the kids to teach them to cough into their elbows and we make sure that they wash their hands even more,” she said.
When the weather is good, the kids and staff head outside.
“We are spending more time outside where the ventilation is better. We hold story time out there,” she said.
The Home of Hope child care center, run by Teen Challenge of Arizona, is also among the area facilities still open, caring for children every day.
“Teen Challenge of Arizona holds the health and well-being of our staff, students, volunteers and guests as one of our highest priorities, and because of that we are closely following all Centers for Disease Control recommendations relative to the COVID-19 matter,” said Jeffrey Richards, chief operations officer for Teen Challenge.
Maintaining a sense of consistency is important to children in tough times, said McCreery.
“For the most part, things are pretty much the same here as they’ve always been,” she said. “Some of the older kids know what’s going on, so for them it can be an anxious and scary time. Consistency and routine helps them, so we want to continue operating a safe place for them.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley announced Sunday that it will reopen its Nap Lawrence Branch at the Casa Grande Community Recreation Center to provide child care for children from families of critical and emergency health care professionals from Banner Health and Sun Life Family Health Center.
The club will limit the number of children in any room to eight, which is what other clubs are doing throughout the nation.
“These two organizations play a vital role in addressing the overall health of our community, and we want to support them (and their employees) as they face these unprecedented challenges,” the club said in a Facebook post. “We are also exploring programs that will allow us to connect and engage with all club members for the duration of this pandemic.”