Some New Brunswick daycare operators pushing back opening day

While New Brunswick daycares will be permitted to open on May 19, some operators say they’ll have to delay opening to ensure they are able to meet the requirements set out by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

“To be perfectly honest it wasn’t feasible for us to get our doors open at that time,” said Melissa McCallum, the director of Little Geniuses Childcare Centre in Fredericton.

“Just in contacting parents alone to find out who was coming back took about two days. The last two days have been spent calling people and figuring out where they’re at.”

Childcare centres will be able to operate at full capacity, but will have to separate children into self-contained groups of 15. Kids will not have to physical distance within their group, but the groups themselves will have to maintain two metres of separation.

Temperature checks and screening will have to be conducted for all staff and children entering the building, and disinfecting and handwashing procedures will have to be put in place, all of which must be outlined in an operational plan.

“We’ve got to restructure our facilities inside to accommodate for things, remove materials,” McCallum said.

“One week simply wasn’t doable for us. Perhaps it was for some people, but I think a lot of people are in the same position.”

That rings true for Lindsay McNeill, the operator of Rugrats Childcare Centre in Fredericton.

“We obviously knew we would be opening at some point. We had no idea when, we had no idea it would be May 19 until Friday. I didn’t realize, I think, how many restrictions were going to be put in place or how many things we were going to have to change to open,” she said.

“We chose not to open on May 19 because it was too early, we felt, and we’re choosing a later date because it gives me more time to make sure everything is ready.”

When asked about childcare centres who are choosing to push back their opening dates, Premier Blaine Higgs says operators have been telling the province they want to reopen, and isn’t sure how widespread delays will be.

“We’ve had tremendous response from daycare operators in terms of their desire to get back up and running. I think about 92 per cent have said we’re ready … we want to get ready to move,” he said.

“So I don’t know many are in the group who won’t be ready by May 19, and I guess we would be know not because businesses and people going back to work are going to need to have daycare requirements met.”

Daycares are included in the second phase of the province’s reopening plan to allow people with children who are returning to work the ability to do so. But all the same, not every spot that was filled at the beginning of March will be filled at the beginning of June, creating some financial hazards for some operators.

“So many of our clients are unable to come back. Their childcare needs aren’t what they were when the pandemic started and they won’t be returning with us,” McCallum said.

“We’re looking at about 50 per cent of our clientele, probably, that aren’t returning right now and we’ve still got all the same overhead and all the same staff that are looking to come back.”

The new requirements could place additional pressures on staff themselves, particularly as they try to monitor the hygiene habits of younger children.

“It’s going to be a challenge, especially with the younger ones that we are going to have to try to encourage them to not touch their face, or not put toys in their mouths because those are typical things that they do,” McNeill said.

“It’s going to be a lot more hands on.”

What the experience for children returning to daycare will be like also remains to be seen. McCallum says some are worried that the children won’t be able to have the same experience as they normally would, as high risk activities are restricted.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that they’re accustomed to doing that they simply cannot do anymore,” she said.

“There is a lot of concern that we’re not going to be able to give the quality of programming that we’re accustomed to giving and the opportunities that we’re used to giving those children.”

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