A few child care centers in West Michigan are accepting enrollment for the children of the “essential workforce” as defined by the state. Courtesy iStock
In response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 18 executive order for child care centers to stay open for disaster relief if they are “willing and able,” some local providers are continuing to serve the children of the essential workforce despite financial hardships.
The business partners behind the sister brands Gilden Woods Early Care & Preschool and AppleTree Early Care & Preschool, Bridgett VanDerhoff (formerly Tubbs-Carlon), Rob Bernard and Shelly Odell, are keeping their chain — which is based in Cascade Township and has 26 Michigan locations — up and running to serve families of critical service workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
VanDerhoff, president and founder of the two brands, said it has been a struggle not knowing how the financial side of things will work out, but the decision for now is clear: keep serving the families.
“Every child care provider out there is going to be hurting. It’s going to be difficult. We’re an industry that runs out of very low profit margin to begin with, as a lot of service industries do,” she said.
“All we can do is offer our services, as we’ve been asked to by the governor, for those who are in critical services.”
The text of Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-16 on child care services defined the “essential workforce” as “health care workers, home health workers, direct care workers, emergency medical service providers, first responders, law enforcement personnel, sanitation workers, child care workers (including any employees acting as child care workers in essential workforce child care centers), personnel providing correctional services, postal workers, public health employees, key government employees, court personnel and others providing ‘critical infrastructure’ to Michiganders.”
“Parents can’t just work from home and bring their children in because they (are working from home),” VanDerhoff said.
She said this means each location of the two brands has gone from serving about 160 to 180 children per location to about 10 to 50 children per location “depending on how close (the locations) are to the hospitals.”
As of March 23, VanDerhoff said Gilden Woods and AppleTree centers were handling child care tuition fees during the pandemic on a case-by-case basis.
VanDerhoff said many client families have been generous in response to the crisis, with some offering to keep paying full tuition while giving their spots to critical services workers for the time being.
At press time, VanDerhoff said the Gilden Woods and AppleTree centers were working with their 800 employees to keep as many employed as possible, either part-time or on shared shifts, if they choose to keep working. They will not be forced to work if they do not feel comfortable coming in, she said.
Those in at-risk groups or who are afraid of coming to work were being given the opportunity to take primarily unpaid time off and/or given assistance figuring out other options, such as applying for unemployment benefits, with the understanding that they could be re-hired after the crisis is past.
Besides asking for existing child care centers to stay open, the governor’s executive order allowed the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to expedite and grant provisional licenses to expand the state’s capacity for disaster relief child care, giving employers, such as hospitals, and individual providers the opportunity to provide child care as long as they comply with certain LARA-imposed requirements to ensure the safety and well-being of children. Those requirements can be found at bit.ly/LARAchildcare.
Information was not available at press time on how many providers had been provisionally authorized to provide emergency care.
VanDerhoff said she believes preschool and early care centers that are choosing to stay open may have an advantage and may perhaps be a better choice for the children of essential workers, in that they are already set up to follow health codes in their facilities.
Kent County Health Officer Dr. Adam London on March 22 signed a public health order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus at child care centers. The order requires individuals and centers providing child care services for compensation to develop and implement a daily screening program for all staff, children, parents entering the facility and other visitors entering the facility, including checking for symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, severe cough and/or shortness of breath unrelated to a chronic condition, and turning away those with symptoms.
VanDerhoff said Gilden Woods and AppleTree staff had been taking these precautions — as well as instituting heightened hand-washing and cleaning procedures — in all of their facilities well before area health departments began issuing such orders.
Currently, the AppleTree location at 2142 Three Mile Road in Walker is accepting new enrollments, particularly for the families of Spectrum Health critical services workers. VanDerhoff said Spectrum needed at least 400 spots to accommodate all of its essential workers as of March 23.
Many child care centers were not able to answer the governor’s call to stay open during the pandemic. Facilities such as Orchard Hill Christian Preschool and Child Care Center and The Goddard School in Grand Rapids posted on their Facebook pages last week and the week before that they were closed in response to the coronavirus. The Childtime chain had closed nearly all of its Michigan locations as of press time, including the one in Kentwood.
Grand Rapids Community College’s Laboratory Preschool also is closed, and the United Methodist Community House preschool was closed the week of March 23 and planning to evaluate the situation weekly thereafter.
Bethlehem Intergenerational Center on March 14 suspended operations through “at least April 3.”
At press time, other child care locations that were continuing to stay open for emergency child care were Bright Horizons at Spectrum, Tutor Time in Jenison and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids.
Information around the coronavirus outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information, including a list of Whitmer’s latest executive orders, is available at michigan.gov/coronavirus.