Jessica Cejnar / Friday, April 17 @ 4:51 p.m.
Private Daycare Providers Step Up During COVID-19 Pandemic With Help From the DN Child Care Council
As adults continue to wrap their heads around life during a pandemic, Del Norte’s youngest citizens are also struggling to cope, local daycare providers say.
For Cherece Norris and Sami Puperi, in addition to figuring out how their child care centers will stay afloat through the COVID-19 emergency, they’ve had to help their charges get used to new routines.
Norris has operated a daycare with her husband Eric out of their Bertsch Tract area home for about 20 years. She’s currently caring for 14 youngsters, ranging from 10 months to 10 years old, making her full. Because of the change in routine with them being out of school and their parents being off work when they wouldn’t be otherwise, children have begun acting out, Norris said.
This, she said, is one of the hardest things she has had to overcome.
“Even the parents are saying, ‘At home, they’re getting into so much trouble,’” Norris said, adding that packets the Del Norte Child Care Council put together that includes hand sanitizer and other items also include books from First 5 Del Norte on how to discuss the pandemic with kids. “Behavior always equals feelings.”
When Del Norte schools closed on March 16 to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Del Norte Child Care Council was inundated with phone calls from parents, Director Melodee Mitchell told the Wild Rivers Outpost. Though the nonprofit organization had also closed its preschools at Mary Peacock and Redwood elementary schools as well as its Little School of the Redwoods facility, local daycare providers have stepped up, Mitchell said.
“We went to work within the hour after that announcement was made,” she said, referring to Del Norte Unified School District’s emergency decision. “We called all of our family daycare providers and license-exempt providers and found out how many openings in daycares we had.”
The Del Norte Child Care Council started in 1979 to connect families to “professional-quality child care.” In addition to operating its three preschools, the Child Care Council offers referrals and subsidies for families, a facility for supervised visitation, a toy lending library and a carseat lending program.
The Child Care Council also has a food program for family child care providers as well as resources to help a family child care provider earn a license.
The organization has been on a “roller coaster of placement,” since schools closed and following Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order on March 19, Mitchell told the Outpost. The week after schools closed, the organization placed about 40 children in family child care, she said. But as businesses closed and parents were out of work, 20 children were pulled from daycare, Mitchell said.
Del Norte County day cares are able to accommodate about 250 children, Mitchell said. The number of parents asking for assistance in finding child care usually fluctuates throughout the calendar year, but to have parents seeking childcare for 40 children overnight was a huge impact, she said.
“We were listening in on that board meeting and that’s why we had to come down to the Child Care Council and start making phone calls,” Mitchell said of the DNUSD Board of Trustee’s meeting on Sunday, March 15. “We couldn’t wait until Monday morning.”
Currently, most family daycares are full, Mitchell said, noting that many are caring for the children of essential workers like healthcare providers.
In addition to finding placement for youngsters during the COVID-19 emergency, the Child Care Council has been providing resources for daycare operators. Mitchell said she was able to get donations from Home Depot, First 5 Del Norte as well as other funding sources to purchase sanitizers, bleach, gloves, masks and other emergency supplies for local daycares.
The Child Care Council held its first drive-up distribution on Wednesday. The organization will distribute supplies again next week and will hold a third distribution as well, Mitchell said.
She said the bag of supplies her organization will give to daycare providers during the third distribution day will come from the state. First 5 Del Norte has worked with First 5 California to bring in more supplies, she said.
Puperi, a former Child Care Council employee and teacher at Foursquare Christian School, reopened her daycare, Sami’s Little Sprouts, in October. Under normal circumstances, she cares for 10 youngsters at different times during the day, their ages ranging from 19 months to 10 years. Now, she’s consistently caring for four kids, the oldest is 3, with two dropping in every now and then.
Many of her parents are sheltering-in-place and have decided to keep their kids home, Puperi told the Outpost.
“Some kids are coming. I run a school in the morning and that’s still open for essential workers,” she said. “The biggest worry I have, and that’s changed for me, I don’t know what summer’s going to be like.”
Puperi said she struggled whether she wanted to remain open for essential workers, noting if she tells parents that are sheltering in place not to bring their children, she can’t charge them. She said remaining open to children whose parents aren’t essential workers is a difficult decision, one she’s prayed about, but she has no other income.
Puperi, who is a small business owner, said she has accessed the financial information and support through the Del Norte Emergency Operations Center’s Economic Resiliency Task Force. But it’s difficult.
“A daycare’s such a different lifestyle than a small business,” she said. “It would have been great if they had a financial person who works with child care to help guide us.”
Mitchell noted that all family child care providers are small business owners and many are eligible for the $5,000 Business Revitalization Loans through the Del Norte Economic Resiliency Task force.
The Del Norte Child Care Council also offers access to state help via its website, Mitchell said. There are also links to resources ranging from virtual museum tours to information about post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Our staff here at the Child Care Council read every management bulletin that comes down from the state,” she said. “We’re constantly in communication with our state networking agencies to gather those types of resources.”
Puperi agreed with Norris that youngsters, like their adult counterpoints, aren’t their normal selves.
“They’re still great kids, but you can tell this is affecting them,” she said of the COVID-19 emergency. “The stress of their family is coming down on them. Kids know.”
For those needing childcare during the pandemic, a list of family child care homes and providers is available by calling Sarah at (707) 951-8604 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those needing help paying for childcare should call Tracy at (707) 218-1296 or email email@example.com.
For more information about the Del Norte Child Care Council, call Melodee at (707) 951-2813 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.