A new scholarship could help more families place their school age children in child care centers while classrooms remain closed.
The program aims to alleviate the burden of the pandemic on working parents, many of whom are in an impossible bind: What do you do if your child’s school is online, you need to work, and you don’t have — or can’t afford — care for them during the day?
One solution has been to open child care centers to school age children. This fall, after state officials began to offer child care subsidies to online learners ages 5-12, nearly 20,000 children enrolled. This gives children a place to go during the school day and helps support child care centers that have seen their enrollment plummet. But it can take more than a month for the subsidies to reach the child care providers, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education said.
That’s where the scholarship comes in: A group of community organizations, including the City of Detroit, and United Way of Southeast Michigan, Detroit SOARS, and the Community Education Commission, will help cover the cost of child care for families until the subsidy payments arrive.
The program is currently available to Detroit residents who qualify for Michigan child care subsidies.
“Parents right now are being asked to do the impossible — at this point for a very long time,” said Monica Rodriguez, director of children and youth for the City of Detroit. “How can we help parents keep all of the balls in the air without losing their minds?”
Parents likely won’t stop needing help with online learning anytime soon. Many school districts still conduct classes online. And even as teachers begin receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, public health experts say it could be months before the vaccine allows for a widespread return to in-person instruction. Backers of the program say they hope child care subsidies will be available for school age students through June with help from new federal funds.
Pandemic learning has been especially hard on Michigan’s youngest students, who are ill-suited to online learning. Child-care providers know that as well as anyone.
Denise Smith, director of Hope Starts Here, an early childhood initiative in Detroit, said many child care providers are concerned about how their former students are faring at home during the pandemic. Families report that some young children have “not been able to withstand” the strain of virtual learning from home, she said. Child care providers can offer additional support to students, while also alleviating some of the strain on parents, she said.
Felicia Legardy, who operates a child care center, Crystal Swann, out of her home in Detroit, said two of her eight students are of school age. They work on online assignments in a separate part of the house from the younger students. The tuition she receives for those students has helped her finances, she said. But she says it’s hard to celebrate the additional funds when all of her students are struggling with online learning.
“Money right now doesn’t matter,” she said. “The children don’t want to be online. They’re stressed out, they’re depressed.”