But Agarwal hopes that all the social distancing and disinfecting she’s doing around her Livermore home will assure parents she cares about keeping their children safe from coronavirus.
Certainly, Agarwal is eager to rebuild her business, which was devastated by the pandemic. But she’s also among a growing number of child-care providers who say they want to “help working parents” by making space for their older children, whose K-12 campuses are closed to in-person learning.
Agarwal said she could look after several kids up to age 12. She’s been supervising her 7-year-old son with his online school work since March. “I thought if I can do that for my son, I can do it for one or two families,” said Agarwal, who has a large, fenced-in backyard where the kids can play.
Across the Bay Area, child-care centers, preschools, after-school programs, city-run day camps and even fitness centers have refashioned themselves into providing day care and distance learning help for school-aged children. Some of these programs also offer P.E., dance and music classes.
“We are of the firm belief that children need to get back into the program,” said Cathy Jelic, president of San Jose-based Action Day Primary Plus, which runs daycare, preschool and private elementary and middle schools at several South Bay locations. The school’s distance learning programs, run by “education facilitators,” also come with art, STEAM and P.E. programs.
But people’s “trusty neighborhood day care” may offer the most affordable option for many families, said Sara Mauskopf, the Peninsula-based CEO and co-founder of Winnie, a site where parents around the country can search for licensed day cares and preschools.
Full-time day care in California costs an average of $900-$1,375 per month, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. That may sound like a lot for people struggling month to month, but some providers are set up to accept subsidies for low-income parents and essential workers, making them more accessible to families in need, Mauskopf said.
This amount certainly is less than what some parents are paying to hire private teachers for backyard “learning pods,” Mauskopf said. On Facebook, parents have discussed paying teachers or tutors as much as $100 or more per hour per child. Another advantage of a licensed day-care provider is that they’ve been vetted by the state’s Community Care Licensing division.
“The child-care industry is a highly regulated industry,” said Mauskopf. “Providers are background-checked, they’re vaccinated, they’ve been inspected and there are a number of safety measures they’ve put into place, even before COVID-19. One of the problems I see with pods is that they’re completely unregulated. Parents might just have someone they found off Craigslist coming in and taking care of a group of kids.”
But safety — specifically around COVID-19 — is a reason that many day-care providers worry about reopening, according to a report by UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
Many child-care workers are low-income women of color, who have either lost jobs or closed their home day-cares during shelter in place. They need to get back to work, but they’re afraid of contracting COVID-19 or of transmitting it to their families. To safely open, they say they need government funding to help buy masks, face shields, gloves and cleaning supplies.
“I think this is another example of the way California is relying on child-care providers to be the backbone for the economy to function, but not really valuing them in a way that is matched by appropriate funding and recognition that these are essential workers and essential businesses,” said researcher Sean Doocy, who co-authored the UC Berkeley survey.
Since June, some 1,726 COVID-19 cases have been reported at the 33,000 California child-care centers open around the state. But it’s difficult to say whether these numbers are cause for concern, explained Naomi Bardach, a doctor and associate professor of pediatrics and health policy at UC San Francisco. She said it’s expected that the number of cases in day cares will go up, “given the rising community prevalence of COVID-19.”
But some 80 percent of those cases involved staff or parents, Bardach said, suggesting that adults are contracting the virus at home or elsewhere. Studies also have shown that children under 10 are at lower risk of transmitting COVID-19 or of getting seriously ill, Bardach added.
Agarwal agrees with Bardach that parents should carefully vet providers before putting their children in day care. Argawal likewise vets her families, asking parents at morning check-ins if everyone is healthy and if they’ve kept to their “social bubble.” Such precautions are another reason day cares are probably safer than a neighbor’s learning pod, she said.
“If you are sending your child to a pod, God forbid something happens,” she said. “Does the person know CPR? At least with us, you know your kids are safe.”
Staff writer Erin Woo contributed to this report.