Amid the state-ordered closure of all public and private K-12 schools in New Jersey, child care centers remain free of such a mandate two weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state.

“We cannot leave anyone alone at this time of heightened anxiety,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during Wednesday’s news briefing.

He said families of those working on the “front lines” against the novel coronavirus — including medical, public health, first responders, corrections officers and grocery store workers — need to continue to access “critical child care services.”

Murphy said “child care professionals are themselves essential players.”

“Human service providers are first responders in this crisis,” Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said Wednesday, adding that the state has taken steps to offer assistance to child care providers so that they can remain open.

Johnson said the state is paying “an additional $100 per child per month to child care providers for children in the State child care subsidy program” for centers that remain open.

The state has waived co-pays for families enrolled in the child care subsidy program by request due to impacts from COVID-19.

The commissioner also said grant funding was available to child care centers to support cleaning supplies or services.

There was no mention as to whether individual child care workers who remain on the job statewide would stand to see additional compensation under the enhanced subsidy payments.

Lightbridge Academy, which has 36 licensed child care centers in New Jersey, said Wednesday it had closed all 14 corporate locations in the state to the public. According to a spokesperson, the remaining 22 are open “at the discretion of the franchise center owner with guidance from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and local health department.”

Another child care chain, Kiddie Academy, has 27 locations in the state. Each is independently owned and operated and individually make business decisions, such as to remain open. A statement from the corporate office said “it expects that Academies that are able to remain open will provide care unless faced with “a mandated closure by a government authority,” or “we become aware of an actual or potential health or safety risk for the children or staff.”

“Candidly, there are many first responders, healthcare providers and essential employees that must go to work to keep us safe; we admire and respect their courage. And while we understand the children who are enrolled at the Academies do not have to attend, we want to provide the option for caregivers whose livelihoods depend on their ability to
have childcare in place, after exhausting all other options.”

An online petition started by an unnamed child care worker urged signatures to support a state order shuttering the facilities as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

"I fear my health is at risk, along with every other provider as well as children and there families," according to the petition, which had collected more than 3,200 signatures March 18.

Licensed child care providers were given some regulatory “flexibility” amid the COVID-19 situation, according to a letter issued March 16 by the state Department of Children and Families.

Under the notice, licensed child care centers are able to hire staff that do not meet the usual education or experience qualifications, provided those workers are told upfront that they could then be let go when normalcy resumes. Also, no group size limitations in licensed child care centers are being enforced.

Relaxed regulations also temporarily lift the requirement that a center director be at a child care facility for at least 50% of its operating hours. In addition, the requirement that a child care center’s head teacher, group teacher and program supervisor “spend 75% of operating hours on site will not be enforced until further notice.”

The accommodations were intended to help “short term solutions,” the letter noted, and regulations would resume at the “conclusion of the emergency.”

Another child care corporation, The Learning Experience, is listed as having 64 centers in the the state. A request for comment was not immediately returned but those centers remained open as of March 18.

 

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