Child care enrollment takes hard hit

Some centers still open, others suspend operations during response to virus


“Sanitizing like crazy” is just a part of life at child care centers, said Pam Kenney, director of Thomas Learning Centers. But in the wake of COVID-19’s arrival, the past weeks have seen Denver area daycares take a variety of extra precautions to make sure their kids go home germ-free.

At Denver Child Care Center, teachers are working to help younger children stay spaced out even when they don’t understand social distancing. At Thomas Learning Centers, which has locations in Westminster and Lakewood, students are avoiding sharing toys, such as by using their own labeled bags of Play-Doh each day.

At both centers, ritual sanitizings of surfaces and toys have turned into multiple rounds of disinfecting, and every child goes through a quick wellness check before entering the classroom.

The Denver, Westminster and Lakewood centers are part of the state’s Emergency Child Care Collaborative, which the state government launched March 23 to allow some child care facilities to stay open amid stay-at-home orders. Many other daycares in the area are also part of the initiative, which aims to provide daycare for essential workers, including those who work essential jobs from home and those who are continuing to work in person. The collaborative also covers the full cost of child care tuition for these families.

For Alexis Archuleta, an essential worker with Denver Human Services who has two sons attending Denver Child Care Center, “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to work from home if the center didn’t stay open,” she said.

“This really is the only feasible option. I couldn’t really have my boys around while I’m talking to the people I’m assisting,” she said. “The center is so open in helping people that need it. I appreciate they’re taking precautions and that my kids are safe.”

For some child care facilities, the ability to continue doing business has offered hope that the centers can weather the storm during a time when more parents are staying home with their kids than ever, reducing a widespread need for child care.

But the measure hasn’t been able to eliminate all of the centers’ challenges. Even with some new referrals coming in to Denver Child Care Center and some regulars continuing to attend each day, enrollment has dropped significantly, said Rich Silvas, executive of operations. In turn, the daycare has had to cut staff members’ hours by about 50%, he said.

“Our staff is our family. We’re always worried about each other and it is difficult to say we’ve cut half of your work schedule, because that’s half of your income,” he said. “It’s hardship for everybody.”

At her centers, Kenney has also seen a drop in attendance due to the pandemic. On April 3, just four children were in attendance and the daycare has also cut staff hours, employing just one teacher a day instead of two.

However, the center is also committed to staying open for those who don’t have other options.

“We’re just trying to help our existing families, who are very appreciative,” Kenney said, “and trying to be part of the community.”

Other centers have been forced to close, not because they aren’t authorized to stay open, but because they don’t have the enrollment to make the money necessary to stay open. That’s been the case for KidsTown Drop-In Child Care, which has locations in Highlands Ranch, Parker and the Smoky Hill area.

A fourth KidsTown location, in Castle Rock, closed at the end of March because of the financial loss it has incurred from the coronavirus.

Regional director Hollie Wilson said because families are typically referred to full-time centers before part-time centers like KidsTown, the daycare’s enrollment dropped by about 99% with the spread of the coronavirus, forcing the centers to close.

Without steady revenue coming in, “we’re working with our business association or our local banks to make sure we do have that line of credit,” she said. “Our hope is to open our doors as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, the centers haven’t lost touch with the families they serve on a daily basis, Wilson said.

“We’ve been in contact with our regulars to ask if there’s anything they need and we’re going to be sharing books, crafts and sensory activities on Facebook,” she said. “We’re taking the next three to four weeks and we’re going to step it up (online) so this can continue to be a support even after we open again.”

Back in Denver, Silvas is likewise looking forward to the pandemic coming to an end and business returning to normal.

“We know we are going to fill up right away when this is over,” he said. “And the big question is, how long is this going to last?”

COVID-19, Colorado


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