School's out for COVID-19: How parents are navigating the impending child care crisis

March 13, 2020

Parents are accustomed to school and day care closures due to blizzards and other extreme weather events, but trying to figure out child care in the face of a global pandemic is uncharted territory for most. As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, so, too, are the number of schools closing in response. 

As of Friday, March 13, at least 18,700 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, including major districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District and all the schools in Ohio and Michigan, affecting at least 8.1 million students nationwide, according to Education Week, which notes that schools are closing for many reasons related to coronavirus, including exposures, cleaning or planning for extended closures. 

While it’s harder to pin down numbers for private institutions, preschools and day cares are also affected. (For instance, a San Jose preschool closed after a teacher tested positive for the virus, and an Oakland charter school was closed through the end of the week because of a possible exposure, reports the Los Angeles Times.) But one thing’s for sure: It’s not hard to imagine that the U.S. might soon follow in the footsteps of many other countries like South Korea, Iran, Japan, France, Pakistan and Italy, where school and day cares have been closed for a set period of time or indefinitely.

From the effect this will have on our economy to the shortage of staff this could cause for hospitals, which are scrambling to find a way to support providers who are also parents, it’s clear the COVID-19 outbreak is already creating a child care crisis with wide-reaching effects. 

It also bears noting that this new turn of events only compounds the existing child care battles parents face: Seven in 10 families are spending unaffordable rates; more than half of Americans live in child care deserts; and even if you usually have access to quality care, many parents lack the paid time off to stay home with their children for an indeterminate length of time. As of 2018, one in three private sector workers, and seven in 10 low-wage workers lacked paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families

We asked Care.com Facebook followers how they’re coping in the face of the outbreak. Here’s how they plan to handle — or are already handling — child care. 

Switch off with a partner or family member

In some families, one parent has better benefits than the other and can rely on paid sick leave while the other heads to work. In others, grandparents or other relatives can step in.

“I am an ER nurse, will be working the front lines. Hopefully, my husband can stay home on sick time to take care of our 6-year-old and 16-month-old. Otherwise we have enough money in savings to last us a long time.” - Amanda Bledsoe

“[As a caregiver] the plan is for me to work as if it is a school vacation ... My mom, who works in the school district, would take my eldest with special needs just as she does when we have a scheduled break. We have always had this plan.” - Krystal Laundry

“My husband would watch them while I work, or if he starts working, I'll watch them.” - Carrie Small

“Thankful my family helps out. I work a third shift so definitely would be tired, but I will make it through.” - Ashley Harrison

Struggle to nail down details

Some parents admit they’re unsure of how they’ll manage financially and/or logistically. 

“Most people in America can’t afford to miss a week’s pay. If my child’s school closed, either my husband or I would have to take time off — something that we can’t afford to do.” - Cherie Toland

“I have 0 help. No clue what will happen.” - Kristen Freibott

“[I would] stay home and pray I get paid while we are closed, since I work at a day care.” - Kali Matheney

It’s pretty much the status quo 

Many stay-at-home parents noted that they plan to home school or support their kids doing at-home schoolwork assigned by their teachers.  

“I would just temporarily homeschool my school aged children until school reopened.” - Brittany Ann Watts

“My toddler would continue their daily routine as usual, and I would have my middle-school-age son continue to work on school projects on the computer and [do] lots of reading.” - Amy Caroline Mulhern

“Charging tablets, gathering snacks. Making sure Disney+ is up to date!” - Kenzie Luke

Work from home

Several moms noted that they’ve been given the green light to do their jobs from home, either in general or as a result of the outbreak.

“I'm fortunate to work in a job that allows me the flexibility to work remotely, and I have a manager that supports me doing so.” - Amanda Lenz

“I am lucky in that I work from home as a freelance illustrator, so I can stay home and home-school all my kiddos.” - Brittany Hoskins Novak

“My company has decided to close the doors and have us work from home if local schools close. We are set up to be remote if need be.” - Laura Kayvonfar

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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