What to know about child care help in RI during the COVID-19 crisis

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*NOTE: As of 3/30 all child care licenses in RI are suspended until April 4.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Governor Gina Raimondo’s announcement on child care Tuesday left some Rhode Islanders confused about what was on offer and who was eligible. On Wednesday, we spoke with the director of the state’s Department of Human Services, Courtney Hawkins, to answer some commonly-asked questions. (Watch the full interview in the video above.)

I need help caring for my child or loved one. Where can I find providers?

On Tuesday, Governor Raimondo announced a state partnership with Care.com, a website that links members with care providers for children, pets, the disabled and the elderly. The site is providing a free, 90-day membership for so-called “frontline workers.” (This free trial only covers access to the website, and not the cost of child care itself.)

On Wednesday, Hawkins said the term “frontline worker” is being used loosely, and applies to anyone in Rhode Island who is need of care for a child or family member at this time.

“I think of the confusion is about what is a ‘frontline worker’ in this current crisis and we’re defining that really broadly,” she explained. “So, if you are having to work while your kids are out of school and you need help with care, you are eligible for this service. Also if you’re trying to work at home and your kids are making you crazy, you’re eligible for this service. It’s simply an opportunity for people to find people who are willing to provide care.”

Is Care.com safe?

The website Care.com has come under scrutiny in the past several years for listing day cares that weren’t properly licensed, or executing background checks that failed to catch care providers who had a criminal past or even served jail time. A scathing 2019 Wall Street Journal investigation highlighted instances where children were allegedly abused or died while under the care of providers found on the site. According to the Boston Globe, in 2018 the then-Waltham-based company settled with Massachusetts’ Attorney General to resolve allegations that the company misled customers about the extent of its background checks. A spokesperson told the paper the company disputed the allegations and had made changes to close potential gaps in its Massachusetts background check procedures.

“I think the team there learned from that, and they have since implemented robust background checks,” Hawkins said Wednesday. “Everyone who goes through the Rhode Island portal will go through that check process, and so families that choose someone that came through that site will know that that’s been done.”

But Hawkins said it’s also up to families to do their research and due diligence, just as they would with any babysitter.

Care.com was acquired by a New York-based firm late last year.

Won’t bringing a stranger into my home during the COVID-19 pandemic break the rules of social distancing?

Hawkins said just as it’s important to discuss safety with your babysitter, it’s also important to have conversations about protocols relating to social distancing and hygiene.

“If you can stay home with your kids, we want you to do that,” Hawkins said. “[Rhode Island Health Department Director Dr. Nicole] Alexander-Scott would encourage you to stay home and socially distance yourself and be with your family, but if you’re in a circumstance where you have to work, you’re going to have to make accommodations for your kid, and we want you to do it safely.”

I want to provide care. How can I help?

Folks who want to offer child or elder care services can sign up to earn extra cash or volunteer their time through the state’s parternship with Care.com.

“If you can do that, if you’re healthy and you have an appetite to care for kids or to check in on older adults, we encourage you to go to Care.com/rigive and sign up there,” Hawkins said. “If you can volunteer, great, if you’re looking to make some money, that’s also fine, too. We just want to have a network of people so that people who need help can outreach and find someone that works for their family.”

Can I bring my child to daycare again?

*NOTE: As of 3/30 all child care licenses in RI are suspended until April 4.

The governor said on Tuesday daycares can open again in Rhode Island, but only if they follow new emergency protocols:

  • Child care must be carried out in stable groups of 10 or fewer;
  • Children shall not change from one group to another
  • If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix with one another.

Hawkins said she’s heard from local daycares that want to reopen, but also from those that wish to stay closed, so it’s best to check with your specific center.

“We’re certainly putting more safeguards in place and trying to respect that some families need to make the choice to send their kids to child care and if they do, we want to make it as safe as possible,” Hawkins said.

Can daycare centers still charge parents even if they’re closed?

Governor Raimondo asked daycares to close across Rhode Island on March 16, and while she’s enacted new provisions that allows them to reopen, some are choosing to stay closed.

Eyewitness News has received reports that certain centers are asking parents to continue to pay, despite the fact that the centers are shuttered.

“It’s an individual center by center thing, every parent is going to have to negotiate that with their center,” Hawkins said. “I’ve spoken to centers who are willing to be flexible and are trying to make things work. I think centers are also trying to stay open and are concerned. I think if the federal government passes a stimulus and provides resources for child care centers, child care centers will be able to alleviate that burden on parents.”

“It’s a tough time for everyone,” she said.

Where can hospital workers send their children?

Several child care facilities will be opening their doors to the children of essential hospital workers in the coming weeks. The Boys & Girls Club, Greater Providence YMCA, Children’s Workshop, Children’s Friend and Learning Brook will be matched with hospitals, and eligible workers will be notified.

Watch our full interview with Director Hawkins in the video above.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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