As schools closed and parents scrambled to find child care, at least one day care owner in Lincoln County expected to be “overrun” with requests for care. But with parents out of work and others working from home, demand has plummeted instead.
Schools appear unlikely to open this year, according to recent statements by Gov. Janet Mills and Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin.
Mills has ordered nonessential businesses to close and people to stay home except for specific purposes. Child care facilities fall into the broad category of essential businesses exempt from the governor’s orders.
A few local day cares remain open, including Eastern River Childcare, of Dresden; Harbor Day Care, of Bristol; and Laila’s Little Learning Corner, of Nobleboro, which recently reopened.
Alna Cares, a neighborhood group organized to assist residents during the coronavirus emergency, is offering child care to families in need. To request assistance, send a message to the group’s Facebook page.
Rhonda Lavallee, owner of Eastern River Childcare, said she has openings for families who need help during the emergency. She said she plans “on being here for my families or any families who need help.”
“A few of my older kids have been coming with their schoolwork and I have been helping do what I can,” she said.
Eastern River Childcare is open Monday-Friday.
Harbor Day Care owner Laurie Mahan said her business is at just 20% capacity and she had to lay off a part-time employee.
“For me to have my staff come back, I’d have to be full. I’d lose money … I need seven more kids to stay open with help,” Mahan said.
The children who would normally be at Harbor Day Care include children of teachers and workers at nonessential businesses, like dog groomers and hair stylists, Mahan said.
Mahan has not received new inquiries for child care.
“I’m surprised. I thought I would be overrun,” she said.
Instead of five days a week, Harbor Day Care is only open three days because those are the days the remaining children need care.
Mahan is asking families who have pulled their children out of the day care to pay half-price for three days of service in order to keep their child’s spot. The request met with widespread support.
While it remains open, Harbor Day Care is taking precautions to keep children and their families safe.
Mahan takes the kids’ temperatures three times a day and disinfects hard surfaces, such as windows and door handles, every hour.
“In child care, there are so many different surfaces, from every toy to cardboard,” she said.
Mahan limits her exposure. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. The day care is in a separate building on the property where she lives, so she just goes back and forth.
Parents must sign a state-provided checklist each day, which asks questions about whether anyone in the family is sick, has traveled recently, or has been around someone with COVID-19.
The parents sign off after Mahan takes their child’s temperature at the beginning of the day. She also keeps track of her cleaning throughout the day.
Mahan is being creative with the few children who still attend the day care. The kids write notes to their friends and display them in videos, which are sent to their friends and parents. The friends send messages back.
One sad change for Harbor Day Care is a loss of socialization between families.
“It’s a pretty social spot at the end of the day and in the morning,” Mahan said. “People have cut everything pretty short. We are not chatting anymore. Everybody’s picking up and leaving.”
“I miss my parents. I miss my kids,” she said.