Viability of New Hampshire child care centers and the ability for front line workers across the state to go to work is in serious jeopardy without urgent, strong leadership from the top
CONCORD, NH – Governor Chris Sununu urgently needs to improve state response to child care coverage during the coronavirus public health crisis.
On Sunday, Governor Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut closed schools statewide, stating they had addressed issues like child care. In multiple press appearances since that time, Sununu has echoed the same message: that child care is under control, that centers need to stay open to provide coverage for critical workers, and that the state is allowing existing daycares to expand and new ones to open within businesses. In response to a reporter question during Thursday afternoon’s press briefing, Governor Sununu maintained his position again.
Sununu’s approach ignores the reality facing Granite State families with children:
- Across the state, major and home-based child care centers have closed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of both children and providers.
- School closures mean that thousands of elementary school-aged children now need *new* child care coverage during school hours.
- Critical workers in health care, police and fire, long-term care, food distribution, and other front-line coronavirus responders may be without adequate child care coverage.
- Single-parent or double-critical worker families are especially vulnerable.
- Grandparents who may usually provide back-up care for certain families are in a high-risk population for COVID-19.
- It does not make sense to close schools and keep large child care classroom sizes, or shift thousands of additional school-age children into existing child care centers without additional support and modification.
Statement from Granite State Progress Executive Director Zandra Rice Hawkins:
“Governor Sununu urgently needs to improve his response to child care supports and infrastructure to ensure our state is in a strong position during and after the coronavirus. Closing schools but keeping children in large child care centers or seeking to expand those centers simply defeats the goal of closing schools. If schools should be closed for social distancing, then we need to look at all spaces where large groups of children and parents congregate. Instead, Governor Sununu continues to ask daycares to stay open and even expand, without any consideration to the health and safety of our children, families, and the staff. We need swift and proactive steps to ensure child care for critical workers who need coverage but without assuming we can or should shift potentially thousands of children into child care right now. This requires a state-led response. These are unprecedented times so there is no expectation that we will get everything right the first time, but it’s been almost a week since these concerns were first raised and the fact that Governor Sununu continues to repeat the same inadequate approach makes us worry he actually does believe this matter is resolved. Essential workers across the state are struggling with how to do their job and keep their children safe at the same time.”
Policy Options for the State
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has important guidance for how we should proceed with child care, and other states such as Massachusetts and North Carolina are implementing parts of that guidance, including coordinating child care coverage for critical workers, sometimes by utilizing closed school buildings and furloughed after-school program coordinators or child care staff from closed daycares. Any State of New Hampshire plan created should be developed in cooperation with public health and child care experts, and include relevant stakeholders to ensure strong insight and collaboration. It also needs to take an expansive look at “critical workers” in the time of coronavirus, which right now include grocery store staff and others.
Short and Long-Term Stability
Governor Sununu also needs to take immediate steps to ensure the stability of our child care centers throughout this crisis. Nationally, 30% of child care providers say they cannot survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant public investment and support that would allow them to compensate and retain staff, pay rent or mortgages, and cover other fixed costs. Without urgent attention, child care coverage in New Hampshire could be decimated in the short and long-term.
Granite State Progress is a multi-issue advocacy organization that addresses issues of immediate state and local concern.