(The Center Square) – A group representing more than 800 childcare centers said Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to allow daycare programs to reopen sooner was the right move, but more needs to be done to help the struggling industry.
"As we have said repeatedly, our industry is in crisis. Dozens of facilities today are currently hanging on by a thread," said Sarah Stoliker, president of Illinois Directors and Owners of Childcare Centers. "And while the Governor’s plan today does allow for modest growth in enrollment capacity in our facilities, we fear that it is not enough to prevent many of our member agencies from closure – which will make childcare less accessible throughout the state, and stunt any efforts toward a broader economic recovery."
On Friday, Pritzker said the more than 5,500 child care centers not currently operating are being asked to open when their region moves into Phase 3 of his reopening plan, which is expected to happen May 29, but with restrictions. The governor said most of the state will be moving into Phase 3 of his reopening plan on May 29, and many Illinoisans will be going back to work, so child care will be needed.
Daycare centers were initially in Phase 4 for the governor's reopening plan. The governor had been repeatedly questioned about how his initial reopening plan could work if people went back to work before childcare centers opened. He changed course Friday.
"We can’t have a conversation about going back to work without talking about child care – anything else leaves a large portion of the workforce, especially women who too often bear a disproportionate burden, without any way to move forward while caring for their kids," Pritzker said at a news conference Friday afternoon in Springfield. "Illinois must take a cautious approach that appropriately balances the need to greatly expand child care with the need to lessen the risk of spreading the coronavirus."
Pritzker said about 15 percent of the state's child care facilities have been operating throughout the pandemic to care for the children of essential workers. Many more will be needed as more employees return to work in Phase 3 of the governor's plan.
"To date, Illinois has not seen significant transmission of COVID-19 in child care settings, which is encouraging evidence that child care can be provided safely. However, public health experts note that there is still much we need to learn about the virus, its impact on children, and how it spreads," according to a news release from the governor's office. "Therefore, Illinois is implementing a cautious approach that appropriately balances the need to greatly expand child care with the need for prudent restrictions that lessen the risk of spreading the coronavirus."
Stoliker said Illinois Directors and Owners of Childcare Centers participated in a meeting Friday with a task force created by Pritzker's administration to address childcare issues as the state moves through the five-phase reopening plan.
“ILDOCC participated in a briefing on the Governor’s just-announced plan to begin re-opening child care centers in Illinois," she said. "It was the first meeting of this task force in which our organization, which represents over 800 daycare programs across the state, was invited to attend. While we were disappointed not to be included in earlier meetings or to participate with the different workgroups, we were pleased with some of the progress that was communicated today."
Stoliker said the group wants Pritzker to take another look at the plan it offered.
"In the coming days, we will be polling our membership on the Governor’s new plan and how it will impact our sector of the childcare economy, and we look forward to sharing those results," she said. "In the meantime, we continue to ask the Governor to reconsider the plan we offered earlier this week, which relies on the professionals of our industry to simply prove their ability to run clean, safe, healthy programs on an ongoing basis as a path to restoring full capacity and economic health to our facilities."
When daycare facilities open in the coming week, they will follow new guidelines for safety.
“For the first 4 weeks they are open, providers will be able to serve no more than 10 children per classroom,” Pritzker said. “Once they have provided care safely for four weeks and have gotten accustomed to the new health, social distancing and sanitation routines, they will be able to expand to larger group sizes.”
In Phases 3 and 4, there will no longer be restrictions on which families can use child care. In earlier phases, childcare was limited to essential workers.