by Andrew Roszak
Executive Director, The Institute for Childhood Preparedness
As restrictions from the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic begin to ease, many early childhood programs are thinking about reopening. This is not an easy task and many find themselves attempting to balance feasibility versus safety. FunShine had the opportunity to talk about reopening child care with the executive director of the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, Andrew Roszak. Roszak has been working on emergency preparedness issues for over 20 years, including his service as Senior Director of Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness and Catastrophic Response – where he worked each day with the CDC and local health departments to better prepare communities for pandemics. Roszak submitted the following tips.
We are starting to see a gradual scaling back of restrictions that were put in place to help minimize the spread of the Coronavirus. While these developments are welcome, it does not mean that the risk is gone. Continuing to follow the advice of public health officials is very important and we should not forget all of the effort and sacrifice that allowed us to get to this point.
Reopening your program is going to require thoughtful consideration and planning. These are not normal times and new policies and procedures need to be developed, explained, and implemented to ensure a successful reopen. This will require a great deal of communication between your program, the staff, and the parents. The most important thing we can do now is to build trust.
A recent survey of Florida parents from the Children’s Movement of Florida found that 31% of parents will not immediately send their children back to child care. Of these parents, 34% stated that health and safety concerns were the top reason for not wanting their child to go back to child care. Further, 43% of parents said that following guidelines from the CDC would make them more comfortable sending their children back. These findings are very insightful and offer a glimpse of the short-to-mid term issues that many early childhood programs must face and address.
A few tips as you consider reopening
- Check-in with your local government authorities. The landscape has definitely changed and it is important to understand the new rules and regulations that you will be operating under. Reach out to your licensing contacts, check your state’s websites, and inquire with local public health officials. Try to gain as much information as you can so that your reopening efforts can be consistent with the new rules, regulations, or guidelines.
- Envision your day ahead of time and take small steps. Many individuals have the benefit of time right now. Life has undoubtedly slowed down for a lot of us. While some may feel a sense of urgency to reopen – it is much more advisable to take your time, start small, and really flush out the reopening plan. If you are serving 20 children, bring back 5 to start with and see how the day goes. This will allow you to identify problem issues – and solutions – ahead of time. It is much better to stay closed for an extra few days than to reopen and have to shut down again due to faulty policies or procedures.
- Level set expectations for staff and parents. This is a brand new environment and things are going to be different. We must celebrate the little wins at this time – we could all use some good news and something to smile about – and yes – this includes the children too. Reopening is going to be a change for everybody and it may be more difficult for some than others. Individuals process change at different rates and we must plan for some hard moments and even some regressions. We all know that children love routines. The last few months have really disrupted their routines and it is going to take a bit of time to establish a new routine.
- Do not underestimate the time commitment. Reopening your program is going to take a lot of work, and keeping your program open in a safe manner is going to require a lot of extra time. Programs will need to clean and disinfect a lot more frequently, drop-offs and pick-ups will be slower, and frequently washing hands is going to take time. In short, there are going to be a lot more tasks to do. Look for opportunities to leverage the resources and expertise of others. One great example is using a curriculum, such as FunShine. In addition to being thoroughly vetted and tested, these curricula can easily be implemented, saving you and your staff valuable time.
Training for early childhood professionals
If much of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry—you’re not alone. This is a new challenge for everyone and there are resources to help. The Institute for Childhood Preparedness was founded to help early childhood professionals prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters. Since the onset of the pandemic, the experts at the Institute have been working to ensure early childhood professionals have access to the information and experts they need. To date, the Institute has developed more than nine hours of Coronavirus training specifically for early childhood professionals, including:
- Coronavirus Information for Early Childhood Professionals (1.5 hours) (English and Spanish)
- Domestic Violence Issues and Awareness (0.5 hours)
- Food Safety Considerations for Early Childhood Programs During Coronavirus (1.5 hours)
- Behavioral and Mental Health Considerations (1.5 hours)
- Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting Your Program (2 hours)
- Reopening Your Program After Coronavirus—Operational, Staffing and Legal Considerations (2.5 hours) (English; Spanish version coming soon)
These trainings are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may purchase each course individually for $19, or purchase the entire 6-course bundle for $95. Until July 6, 2020, you can use code FUNSHINE at checkout to receive $10 off the 6-course bundle. Enroll today!
There will be setbacks and difficult days ahead. However, with each passing day, we are one day closer to putting the pandemic behind us. In times of crisis, leaders rise to the top. It is incumbent on us to be those leaders and ensure we are doing all we can to protect the health and safety of our staff, our community and, most importantly, the children we serve.
More about Andrew Roszak
Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-Paramedic, serves as the executive director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, as Chief of Preparedness, Health and Environment for the Region II Head Start Association and as an adjunct professor in the school of community and environmental health at Old Dominion University. Roszak has worked on emergency preparedness issues at the local, regional, state, and federal level for the past twenty years. He was formerly the senior director of emergency preparedness at Child Care Aware of America, senior public health advisor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency Care Coordination Center and senior director of environmental health, pandemic preparedness, and catastrophic response at the National Association of County and City Health Officials, where he worked with the CDC and the 3,100 local health departments in the United States each day to help prepare communities for pandemics and disasters.
Roszak began his emergency preparedness career as a firefighter, paramedic and is certified as a hazardous materials technician and in hazardous materials operations. Roszak also served as Health Policy Fellow for the United States Senate Budget and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees during the 110th and 111th Congress. Roszak is admitted to practice law in Illinois, the District of Columbia and before the US Supreme Court.
Learn more about resources developed specifically for early childhood professionals at www.childhoodpreparedness.org.