'Status quo' for open child-care facilities, but Manitoba's reopening plan offers no next steps
Some non-essential workers eligible to access child care as they return to work; more than 1,100 spots open
Manitoba parents able to return to work during the first phase of the province's reopening strategy are eligible to access child-care services — but the plan to restart Manitoba's economy lays out few details as to how closed daycares will reopen, or how they will accommodate an influx of children.
The province released the first details of its multi-phase reopening plan on Wednesday, with a long list of non-essential businesses allowed to reopen as of Monday.
The province had ordered most licensed daycares and child-care facilities to close on March 20, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Some stayed open to help health-care workers who needed child care.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson later asked other licensed child-care facilities to reopen in mid-April for other critical services workers.
But the reopening plan announced Wednesday provided few new details for the industry, aside from a promise that some non-essential workers going back to their jobs will be able to access child care.
"For the centres that have been open, it's pretty much status quo for them," said Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association — which may not be a bad thing.
"I like that it's not going from zero to 100. What would have concerned me is if they had opened all of the programs to max capacity."
Licensed child-care centres that are open can still only care for a maximum of 16 kids, while home-based care providers can care for up to eight children.
"Enhanced" hygiene and infection prevention measures must also continue at child-care centres.
There are currently more than 1,100 vacant child care spaces in open facilities available for all parents who will be returning to work, the province said Wednesday, and the Department of Families will work with the child care sector to make sure families in need of child care can access it.
Kehl says roughly 400 child care facilities are currently open, many of which are not at capacity, but she expects those vacancies will be filled as workers start to return to their jobs.
The Manitoba Child Care Association recommended working toward filling those spaces first, she said.
"Those programs have been open, they developed protocols and kind of have a system going," and fees will help bring in money to facilities that have seen income drop due to lower capacity, she said.
The plan announced Wednesday also includes no details about when schools will reopen, after in-school classes were suspended indefinitely on March 31.
"We're not entertaining the idea of reopening the schools at this point in time," Premier Brian Pallister said on Wednesday, adding it would be hard to enforce physical distancing, and the end of the school year is quickly approaching.
Unclear road to expansion
For child-care facilities, the strategy does not provide any direction on how or when they can increase the limit of children in their care, or how those daycares still closed will reopen.
That's disappointing and frustrating to MJ Farrow, director of Stars of Promise daycare in northeast Winnipeg.
"I've been sitting here open since Day 1 — had no children, and now we're sitting here with seven," said Farrow, whose facility can accommodate up to 64 kids.
Three new kids may come on Monday, bringing the daycare's total to 10, she noted.
Stars of Promise primarily serves preschool-aged children, but Farrow has taken on a few kids old enough to be in school after being approached by some parents who live nearby.
Now, as the province starts to reopen, Farrow is in a position where she may have to choose between accepting new clients, or holding spots for existing clients who had to take their kids out of care.
"I'm really disappointed that [the province] didn't say anything about us or where we're supposed to go," said Farrow.
Kehl, who met with the Department of Families prior to Wednesday's announcement, said she is also unaware of any details regarding a plan for expanded child-care operations.
The Families Department "will continue to work with the Manitoba Child Care Association as we work to provide child care to Manitoba families at a reduced capacity," Stefanson said in a statement to CBC News.
"Any plans to expand capacity will be made based on the advice of our chief provincial public health officer."
Pallister said Wednesday that people have contacted the province offering to open their own daycares and that, because schools are closed, there may be more babysitters available for those going back to work.
"Today's announcement leaves parents with many questions," Opposition NDP MLA Lisa Naylor (Wolseley) said in a statement.
"Will they have access to child care if they have to return to work or will their fees be covered if they still must work from home? Will parents' jobs be protected if they must stay home to care for their children?"
The province says those looking for temporary licensed child care vacancies can use its online search tool to find available spaces.
Day camps, non-contact sports coming back
Day camps can start up again on Monday, as they are included in Phase 1 of the province's plan.
Overnight night camps will not be allowed, but day camps can operate with a maximum of 16 kids at a site, and provided activities allow people to stay at least two metres apart, "except for brief exchanges."
Camp staff must screen themselves for symptoms before coming into work, and all kids will be screened when they're dropped off. No one who is symptomatic will be able to participate in a day camp.
The camps must also provide separate exits and staggered drop-offs to ensure there is no contact with other groups.
Playgrounds and outdoor recreation facilities, such as basketball courts and soccer fields, are allowed to reopen on Monday under the province's plan, but it's not yet clear how many will.
School divisions in Winnipeg closed their playgrounds during the last week of March. The City of Winnipeg made its play structures off-limits as of March 28.
Phase 2 of the province's reopening strategy, which will begin no earlier than June 1, will see the reinstatement of non-contact children's sports, like badminton, tennis and gymnastics.
With files from Sam Samson