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Whitmer orders child care licensing changes to help health care providers, first responders

child swinging
Olivia Bauso
Health care providers and essential workers could soon have more child care options after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday.

The new coronavirus is making child care complicated. For some people working from home, it turns into an iPad while they're on a conference call. But people who simply have to go to work still need reliable, safe child care.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday to ease child care licensing restrictions with the goal making more care available to health care providers and other essential workers.

Annette Sobocinski is the executive director of the Child Care Network, a non-profit that works with families and child care providers in Southeast Michigan. She spoke to Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the impact of the COVID-19 on the state’s child care industry.

Highlights from the interview: 

Changes enacted in Whitmer's executive order

"Essentially, what the executive order did is relieve some of the processes by which programs can become licensed," Sobocinski said. "It also authorized school districts and other employers ... to open up their own child care programs for the workers." 

Sobocinski says the language for employers seems to be directed at hospitals and other health care groups.

On opening and staffing a “disaster relief child care center”

Sobocinski believes the options for child care in school districts provide the most practical opportunity.

"Often school districts already have space available. And now that all the schools are closed, they have the space available with no children in it to be able to open quite quickly. And they also already have employees that would be available," she said. "The order also allows the school districts to use their employees as the providers of care.

"My hope is that the additional thing that they do ... is that they work to partner with the private child care providers that are already still open and are willing to support this effort to provide care to essential workers and have openings and have capacity to care for those children."  

Noses, mouths, toys, and cleanliness 

Telling young kids not to touch their face is tough. Getting them to keep their hands out of their mouths can be tougher. 

"All the programs that we've been talking to, they've stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting practices. Some have gone to practices where they're moving to drop off and pick up outside of the program," Sobocinski said, noting that approach reduces the number of people entering the facilities.

"Some have implemented screening, temperature checks and things like that before people come into the program."

Long-range concerns for Michigan's childcare industry 

"My biggest concern is the child care community as a whole. For child care providers, it's a very challenging business in terms of the finances of it. And so when there's a decrease in the number of children who are coming to the program, in terms of the small business aspect of running a child care [center], that that can be challenging for these providers," she said.

Sobocinski is also concerned that if childcare center employees start to get sick with COVID-19, the problems will only become worse. She says some childcare groups around the country are recommending that all childcare centers be shut down unless they are serving people in essential professions.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited here for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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