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Community in need of child care options 

More than half of San Luis Obispo County's child care centers have closed their doors in the wake of COVID-19, according to the CAPSLO Child Care Resource Connection, leaving essential service workers searching for options and child care providers scrambling to provide solutions.

SERVICE IN NEED More than half of SLO County's child care centers closed their doors after the outbreak of COVID-19. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SERVICE IN NEED More than half of SLO County's child care centers closed their doors after the outbreak of COVID-19.

"We've seen a real drop in the number of programs that are open," CAPSLO Children Services Manager Shana Paulson told New Times on March 25.

Due to the shelter-at-home orders and concerns about how to operate day cares safely, Paulson said the number of open child care centers in SLO County plummeted from 111 to 48. Close to 30 home-based centers also closed. Those that remain open have less capacity and fewer staff members in order to maintain social distancing. Nearly all after-school programs closed as well.

As families and child care providers confront this new reality, Paulson said her agency and the community are working together to devise new options and solutions—with a focus on helping the essential service workers who are on the frontlines of battling COVID-19.

"It's time for real innovation and community," Paulson said. "People are ready to start rebuilding and building something different for this time."

SLO County created an "emergency child care" webpage at readyslo.org that allows essential workers—first responders, health care professionals, and emergency county personnel in water, trash, road maintenance, and custodial divisions—to sign up for child care. It also enables child care businesses and professionals to go to the website and sign up to offer their services.

The county says it will use the web platform to help essential service workers find child care in the community.

"We're generally working with child care providers that are already in existence in the community and trying to place the children of first responders in their facilities as able," said Michelle Shoresman, a public information officer with the SLO County Health Agency.

But SLO County is also looking to help expand the options that are available. At a March 24 press briefing, SLO County Office of Education Superintendent James Brescia said his office plans to open an emergency child care facility starting the week of March 30. Further details weren't available at press time.

"We anticipate mobilizing our first emergency child care center for first responders next week, and will scale services as requested by the Office of Emergency Services," Brescia said on March 24.

CAPSLO's Paulson added that officials are also in touch with other business owners who have expressed interest in opening their facilities as potential day care center locations.

"What's been great is that everyone's working together to create these choices," she said.

As clearer public health guidelines emerge that instruct child care providers on how to safely operate their centers during the pandemic, Paulson is hopeful that some of the providers that closed their doors will reopen soon.

"We'll be getting those [materials] out not only to the programs but to the families," she said. Δ

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