Continuing Child Care in a Pandemic
Educating and caring for children is an enormous responsibility, regardless of the state of the world. But add in a pandemic, and things become even more complicated.
Natalie Standridge, founder and CEO of Casa de Corazón, said she faces complex ethical issues daily. Operating as an essential service during the crisis, the early childhood education program caters to infants through pre-kindergarten kids. Operating out of several locations and growing to out-of-state locations, the accredited Spanish immersion curriculum, organic made-from-scratch food program, and intercultural focus provides a holistic approach to child care.
Before the pandemic, Standridge hadn’t seen a reason to have online learning platforms. But now, they have an online portal granting members access to educational videos, and an app for parents’ phones loaded with things like classroom music. Casa de Corazón has even shifted its summer fundraiser 1K For Kids to accommodate remote, with social media challenges preluding the virtual event day.
Even still, as an essential service to essential workers, Casa de Corazón is still operational in-person. It’s something that brings new challenges as Standridge looks to keep everyone safe.
TCB: How has your work and Casa de Corazón been disrupted by coronavirus and the pandemic?
Standridge: It’s been a very interesting challenge, unlike anything I’ve encountered in my entire career. It’s very tsunami-like crisis management because it seems like every day we have to face ethical choices, and really complex dilemmas that affect a lot of people. We are being asked to remain open as an essential service by Gov. Walz here in Minnesota, and at the same time, we’re implementing many new protective measures to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus in our centers. So day-by-day, we’re listening to the cabinet calls, receiving memos from MDH and DHS, consulting with epidemiologists in order to make the best decisions to provide this essential service for our community, and open our doors to additional essential workers that may be having the childcare crisis right now. But we’re also trying to keep our families and staff members safe to the biggest extent possible during this scary and unprecedented time.
Q: Have you lost any work or clients because of the pandemic, or has it been more of the opposite as you’re essential?
A | We definitely have had a reduction in attendance and also in enrollments. While many of our families are still supporting our center and remaining enrolled, some are choosing to keep their children home if they’re working from home to follow the social distancing guidelines.
We also have some families that have been severely impacted by the crisis economically and lost their own sources of employment and have had to withdraw from childcare altogether.
Q: Is there anything you’re able to do right now to compensate for losing those clients or to create new streams of revenue?
A | There are several measures that we’re taking. I think that it’s a new challenge every day just understanding what resources are out there and figuring out how to pivot and make sure that we can reach our goals. Which are of course keeping the resources alive for the families that need us now and that will need us again once the social distancing is over. But also doing the best by our loyal and amazing staff members and teachers who have dedicated their lives to this career. We don’t want to put any of them out of work. And so, what we’re actively pursuing is the government assistance programs that are out there, in terms of the Paycheck Protection Program funding, and also the Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding through the SBA, which I think is good. Even for businesses like mine, where I am proud to say we have not had to furlough or layoff any employees yet. We are confident that we will receive this assistance and that it was built for companies like mine, where we’re continuing to employ people and continuing to support the economy and essential workers.
We’re doing our best and trying our hardest. And our amazing families that are able to continue funding with private tuition pay. You know we owe that to them.
Their dedication to our teachers and seeing them as part of their extended family is really what’s allowed us to be able to keep that employment going for all of our dedicated staff members.
Q: Do you anticipate work bouncing back relatively quickly, or are you bracing for the worst with the recession? What do you think the future looks like for Casa de Corazón?
A | I’m confident that we do have a positive future to look forward to. My business, obviously being founded in 2002, survived and actually thrived during the recession of 2008. Because regardless of whether people’s work situations change … child care really continues to be a very essential service. And I found that during that recession, even if I had several full-time families go to part time, there were other part time families wanting to come in.
I feel that this is an essential service, regardless of people’s employment changes, whether it’s full time or part time. So, I feel that even during a recession or economically challenging times, we are able to pivot and provide those services for families that still do need child care.
Q: Yes, people will still need to go to work and have their children be cared for. Do you see any bright spots coming out of this crisis?
A | I really do. The most inspiring and amazing piece of this for me has been the e-learning platform that we have launched. This is something that we never had a reason to do before. You think of distance learning as something that universities do. But I never really thought of early childhood as something that could be offered online right? Children need hands-on care at those very young ages. However, these kids that are staying home with their work-from-home parents in a temporary situation. They miss their teachers; they miss their friends; and they miss that Spanish language immersion, and the content and projects. And so, we have launched a system where they get private access to a portal where they can see videos of teachers using sign language; of teachers singing a song or reading a book in Spanish; a teacher walking them through creating an art craft project that have to do with our theme of the month. Extended family is one of our core values. And to see those engagements electronically that we never had with our kids before between our teachers has just been such a bright spot and a silver lining to the experience that we’re going through with so many of the kids staying home at this time.
Q: How are you keeping employee morale up and your own morale up?
A | It’s been a matter of just over-communicating with both our enrolled families and our staff members about all of the additional safety measures we’re taking. We had a beautiful experience. Once the CDC started recommending that everybody wear these homemade masks, we decided we should provide those for our staff members. But how can we source those? What would be a really in alignment with our core values way to source those? We had a teacher at one of our centers whose mom sews, and we contracted her to make them.
It was a way to share our love with that teacher’s family and also with all of our staffing. We’re here and we’re taking these steps to protect you. And it went a long way for morale. People were super appreciative of us providing that.
As administrators, it is 100 percent the few kids that we’re getting and the engagement that we’re getting from our enrolled families. They know that this is full-fledged ethical dilemma after ethical dilemma, 24/7 crisis management, and they’ve been amazing and so supportive and sending us ideas and donations. We were having trouble getting baby wipes for a week, and then an enrolled dad that works for Target Corp. brought us baby wipes. I mean those kinds of gestures just make us feel like we’re doing what we need to be doing, and we’re valued and we can keep getting up in the morning and coming to work and continuing to get through this together. We just really feel our extended family both with staff and with families right now.
Q: As kids, parents, and a lot of people are staying at home, what advice do you have for working productively, engaging with their children and doing things to stay busy and keep minds off of the current situation?
A | It’s really about having structure, and having time management in place. Both for the parents’ own work day and also for the children’s engagement throughout the day.
We also have a Casa app, which is an asset that those families can download on their phone. And it has all of the music that we play in our classrooms that the kids can listen to at home and have a dance party in their living room and feel like they’re living that culture that they live in their classroom when they do come to school.
Now, I’m so happy that spring is here. Getting outside is the best thing for mental health, and being able to just remember that there are places outside of your home. Get your kids outside to do a little nature walk or whatever it is. And of course, schedule your own work time where you can focus.