Child Care in the Pandemic: A conversation with a foster parent.

There’s no doubt: COVID-19 and the resulting healthcare crisis is driving changes for everyone. You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry, vocation, role, individual – anyone, anywhere in the U.S. – who hasn’t been impacted by the uncertainty and rapid-fire adjustments required to navigate the pandemic. Other than frontline healthcare workers, perhaps none have been more impacted than parents.

Working from home, unemployment, quarantine, no child care, restricted child care, remote schooling from home – you name it, parents have had to navigate it since early 2020. Here’s a real-world look at what a foster parent had to say about her pandemic journey and child care.

Meet Sarah – biological mother of three and foster parent of four (exempted by the state) including twins, a toddler (younger sibling to the twins), and an 11-year-old she is trying to adopt. Sarah has a partner, works full time, and lives in a northeast state she has always considered on the forefront of foster care, with a higher foster subsidy than most other states. Yet, when COVID-19 hit, it became apparent that even her home state had no disaster readiness support for parents as it relates to child care.

“The pandemic highlighted that day care is the foundation of many communities,” said Sarah. “It’s critical to how I run my household; affordable, quality child care is everything. Most foster families can’t survive without it, and many struggle to afford it under the best of circumstances.”

When COVID-19 drove stay-at-home mandates and child care facilities temporarily closed across the country, Sarah struggled to make ends meet. She said she couldn’t afford to take time off from work, even while working from home, and had to pay out-of-pocket for someone to care for all seven children. She used savings to cover the cost, yet ultimately had to say goodbye to her foster baby due to lack of support and resources. Even when child care reopened for children whose parents were deemed essential workers, Sarah didn’t qualify for that designation. She had to continue with home care for her kids.

“I sought help from everyone – our governor, congressmen, anyone I could think of,” said Sarah. “There was simply no disaster readiness plan or support for parents in this situation.” She has heroically made it work since March 2020, but at a significant financial burden to her family.

Challenges continue for Sarah even as pandemic restrictions are lifted around the country. Previously, she could tap day care workers to help with early intervention protocols for her foster toddlers; but low staffing resources, restrictions on visitors in day care and screen time limitations necessitate that Sarah handle the two-plus hours of early intervention practices with her kids at night via Zoom. “Things like that are really tough after working all day and handling other family responsibilities like dinner, baths and homework,” she added.

Sarah’s hope is that the healthcare crisis of the past year will illuminate for states the very real need for child care emergency readiness plans and drive a greater level of compassion and flexibility when dealing with local child care and subsidies for parents.

Additional parent feedback about private pay child care

Even non-fostering, private-pay parents utilizing child care over the past year have run head on into challenges.

“Costs for after-school care have gone up, and there are significant limits on the number of children programs will enroll,” said a paying parent of a 6-year-old in a large southern state. “My husband and I hope that moving forward, child care providers will be able to offer flexibility within their financial policies so that parents aren’t paying for COVID-related time missed by the child and that they will hold the child’s spot.”

One state administrator, as well as other parents, indicated they have seen an increase in private pay child care from pre-COVID rates.

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