So what are we going to do with all the kids?
When schools and daycares closed due to COVID-19, families throughout New York cobbled together childcare. Quite often, this entailed parents keeping an eye on kids while working from home - an arrangement that is not, to put it mildly, ideal.
For many parents, these ad hoc childcare arrangements were only meant to be viable for the short-term.
Now that it’s become clear that the disruption caused by coronavirus is long-term, parents are reckoning with the fact that schools, daycares and now summer camps will remain shut down for the foreseeable future.
With regions throughout the state slowly reopening, or hoping to, it’s worth asking how sustainable this situation really is.
Can parents really return to work if there’s nobody to watch their kids? How much longer can childcare arrangements envisioned as temporary fill the void created by months-long school and daycare closures? Will parents working from home continue to balance their jobs with childcare, or will something give?
None of these questions have answers.
It’s about time they did.
Yes, there’s a fair amount of uncertainty around children and coronavirus.
Still unclear is what role children play in transmitting the disease, and while most children appear to experience mild symptoms, recent reports of a new, life-threatening, possibly COVID-19-related inflammatory condition in kids are alarming, and make it harder to answer the question of whether to reopen schools and camps.
This doesn’t excuse the lack of guidance for families, or lack of direction for schools and daycares coming from government officials, though.
Education falls under phase four of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan, along with arts and recreation.
That might be the appropriate spot for it, but it would be helpful for parents to have a better sense of what the state is planning for their kids, and how much longer the patchwork system of childcare they've cobbled together will have to last.
The Cuomo administration has launched a Reimagining Education initiative, which has sparked concern that the state intends to use the pandemic as an opportunity to replace physical schooling with virtual classrooms in partnership with the Gates Foundation.
That doesn’t appear to be the case, as Cuomo adviser Jim Malatras, whose main day job is president of SUNY Empire State College, has said that the panel’s short-term goal is to figure out how to open schools safely in a pandemic.
But you can’t blame parents for wondering what, exactly, is going on, given the paucity of information about schooling from the state thus far.
In general, the state needs to devote more energy to developing a plan for helping families get through the pandemic.
Education is important, but it doesn’t cover the wide range of programs that parents turn to for help caring for their kids. Also needed are clear guidelines for reopening daycares, camps and other extra-curricular programs.
Even a little bit of information goes a long way.
I was pleased to receive a letter from my son’s daycare last week, informing me that they hope to reopen in early July. We might need childcare sooner - but at least now I have a clearer picture of what to expect.
It will be a long time before our economy is fully restored, for a variety of reasons.
But if state leaders are serious about restoring it, they need to make sure that childcare is available to parents who work. You can’t reopen the economy if parents have no place to send their kids, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise.
As for myself, I’ve been very fortunate in that my husband has been able to watch our son while I work during the week.
His hours have been reduced, and he works mainly on the weekends, when I’m available for childcare. It's a good arrangement, but it's probably going to change soon.
My husband’s workload is likely to increase in the next month, which means he’ll be working more during the week. “What will we do if the daycare isn’t open?” he asked me recently. My response, “I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
And I’m sure we will.
But I wouldn’t mind more clues as to what to expect, and I suspect most parents agree.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.