Child care plays pivotal role during health crisis

COVID-19 Policy Analysis: As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, OK Policy will be analyzing state and federal policies that impact our state and its residents during this national health emergency. These posts reflect the most current information available at publication, and we will update or publish follow-ups as new information becomes available.

NOTE: OK Policy is not a state agency and we cannot assist in applying for state services or provide legal advice.

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UPDATE ( Monday, April 6) Recommendations for child care for essential workers has been updated.

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As Oklahoma closes schools and businesses to help stop the spread of COVID-19, child care providers are playing a critical role for supporting delivery of health care and other vital services such as sanitation, utilities, postal, grocery, corrections, and emergency services. By staying open, child care centers make it possible for those workers with children to carry out these important roles. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has issued special guidelines for child care facilities that remain open. Below are some policy measures that can support keeping child care centers open during the COVID-19 health emergency.  

During this critical time, Oklahoma should follow the lead of other states to help child care providers who already operate under razor thin profit margins. Oklahoma already faces a shortage of child care throughout the state and a national survey reported that one in three child care providers would not be able to cover fixed costs if closed for more than two weeks. Temporarily replacing attendance-based reimbursement policies with those based on enrollment would provide a stable source of revenue to providers, and help facilities remain open during this unpredictable time. The state can also support parents by broadening child care subsidy regulations, which helps low-income working parents pay for child care. Families could have greater access to care through changes such as waiving copayments for families and automatically extending 12-month eligibility renewals during the pandemic.

Essential workers also need assistance finding and paying for care in the midst of increased or unpredictable hours and child care closures. In order to ensure sufficient care for children of health workers the state should follow other states that have utilized surveys to document needs and match families with available care or partner with the Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association to utilize their existing referral services. These providers should be reimbursed at the highest three-star rate and child care workers should receive hazard pay for the increased risk for workers and their families. The state should first utilize existing licensed child care sites as the primary way to provide care for essential workers with young children (ages 0-5), particularly infants and toddlers. Existing programs already have the equipment and physical structures, as well as trained staff, to provide the safest care to young children given their unique needs. The state should avoid “pop-up” care facilities with provisional licensing as a last resort, and instead extend in-home care options to allow children of essential workers to be cared for by trusted friends or relatives and receive subsidy payments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Fine joined OK Policy in July 2018 as the education policy analyst. Originally from New York, she began her career in education as an Oklahoma teacher. Rebecca proudly comes from a family of educators, and spent four years teaching middle school in Tulsa and Union Public Schools. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science from the University of Rochester and received an M.A. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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