Clallam’s childcare crunch: Community leaders explore options

Expanding locations, training some of the options discussed

Before and now during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials say Sequim and Clallam County’s services is at capacity.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand and decrease in supply,” Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush said.

The City of Sequim was tasked by Clallam County’s Emergency Operations Center to help alleviate the childcare issue across the county with multiple stakeholders. Bush said that dating back about six weeks, there were only eight slots available for children of ages 5-12 in Clallam County.

“If you’re a parent, you’re getting super lucky if you get a spot,” he said.

Regulations for social/physical distancing and capacity have impacted many childcare providers in the county with 23 percent still closed today, Bush said.

Using Prevention Works research, childcare providers in Clallam County estimate they have lost about $900,000 since March.

Aria Fries, 3, takes to the open court at Bibity Bobity daycare last week. The center is one of a few that remained open during the pandemic. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Aria Fries, 3, takes to the open court at Bibity Bobity daycare last week. The center is one of a few that remained open during the pandemic. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

To meet health restriction standards, many facilities have added staff to accommodate smaller group sizes, which affects businesses’ slim profit margins already, Bush said.

The city continues to meet with community leaders to plan for changes, including possible modified public school schedules.

“We’re starting to think that if parents don’t have places for their kids to go, then this becomes a big inhibitor for local businesses,” Bush said.

Options

As one effort to find solutions, Clallam County commissioners look to dedicate $110,000 for childcare efforts for funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Mary Budke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, said the club, Olympic Peninsula YMCA and the William Shore Memorial Pool District are collaborating on options across the peninsula.

“We’re gonna be ready to go on something,” she said.

Specifics aren’t set yet, Budke said, but solutions could include staff sharing and offering expanded services with social distancing, smaller cohorts and more with a pop-up location a local church, convention center and/or school.

“It’s wide open to where we’re needed,” Budke said. “What’s consistent is that it’s affordable care for children and being open and flexible.”

Wyatt Franklin, 5, fills a container at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center last week as part of an outdoor preschool class. The center’s owners split their preschool in two to allow for more social distancing. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Wyatt Franklin, 5, fills a container at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center last week as part of an outdoor preschool class. The center’s owners split their preschool in two to allow for more social distancing. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Bush said a large portion of their efforts include expanding services and seeing if existing private childcare providers have any capacity to grow.

Because of stricter guidelines for daycare facilities for children 5 and under, it’s harder to “stand up a preschool,” he said.

One option, Bush said, is expanded babysitter training to increase options for families. The YMCA of Sequim is offering a virtual babysitter training course for certification for ages 11-15 for two hours a day on July 16, 18 and 20 (fees apply). To register of for more information, contact Gail Sumpter at Gail@olympicpeninsulaymca.org or 360-477-4381 ext. 310.

Ground floor

To keep their facility open and their children with them, Erin Bell and Helana Coddington, co-owners of Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center, 191 W. Sequim Bay Road, received an emergency waiver so that their school-aged children could be at the 5-and-under facility.

Without it, the co-owners said they might have had to stay at their homes with their children.

“As a parent, I’m worried about what I’m able to do,” Bell said. “Our priority was to stay open for families.”

Some of her staff opted to stay home with their families during the pandemic leading her to reduce hours, reduce the number of available openings for children, and hire and train new staff in less than ideal circumstances.

Teacher Lyberty Forville talks with 20-month-old William Sorensen about filling the water table at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Teacher Lyberty Forville talks with 20-month-old William Sorensen about filling the water table at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Children’s numbers dropped by about half for children ages 1 month to 5-years-old starting in March but began picking back up once Clallam County went into Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start recovery plan.

Bell said they split the preschool into groups of 10 inside and outside with one teacher to nine children. With social distancing requirements in place, however, the facility couldn’t accommodate more parents’ varying schedules.

“That’s one of the stressful situations for me,” she said.

They continue to field calls daily about openings, too.

“We had a waiting list before Covid; I have no idea how much that has changed now,” Bell said.

As for future plans, Bell plans to keep the split preschool model because “you can’t social distance young children.

“You can’t keep them six feet apart,” she said.

“(The kids) are pretty resilient. We hear them a lot say, ‘I wish this virus would go away.’ They feel it.”

Support

At Carlsborg’s Bibity Bobity, 11 Childers Lane, owner-director Nicole Goettling said she saw numbers drop temporarily to about half for the center’s ages 1 month to 13-years-old. They remained open with statewide provisions in place, though.

Now their attendance is about level with pre-COVID-19 days, she said, with some families staying home because of parents losing their jobs or being concerned about the virus.

One thing that’s helped, Goettling said, is the state waiving co-payments for families with childcare subsidy benefits but that ends in July.

“(The state) was definitely paying us to stay open,” she said.

But when the co-pays resume and federal stimulus monies for the unemployed end, Goettling said parents have been worried. Bibity Bobity also received some grants and loans too, which Goettling said has helped “tremendously.”

Along with social distancing, and other provisions, she opened the facility up to older children all day rather than just after 3 p.m. due to public schools closing and opting for distance learning.

Sarah Schmedding pushes Harry Piper on the swings at Bibity Bobity last week. As some of the provisions at the center, parents must remain in the lobby, staff and children’s temperatures are taken, and social distancing is required between age groups. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sarah Schmedding pushes Harry Piper on the swings at Bibity Bobity last week. As some of the provisions at the center, parents must remain in the lobby, staff and children’s temperatures are taken, and social distancing is required between age groups. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

That added difficulties for staff as they tried to help older children with homework along with their regular instruction with younger children.

“Getting (older children) to do (homework) wasn’t very successful,” she said.

Depending on Sequim School District’s schedule in the fall, Goettling said she will have to weigh whether or not to add a teacher for older students. That’s dependent, however, on licensing regulations and space.

“At the same time, I honestly don’t think I would have a room for them until after 11:30 a.m. because we do a preschool class,” she said.

Safety

Childcare centers have multiple provisions in place to minimize spreading germs and the 2019 novel coronavirus. At Bibity Bobity, parents can’t go past the lobby, no shoes are allowed inside and they’re doing temperature checks.

Budke said they ask children at the Sequim and Port Angeles clubs to wash their hands every 30 minutes because “it’s our best defense to preventing it.”

Jake Price basks in the sun with some styling shades at Bibity Bobity day care. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Jake Price basks in the sun with some styling shades at Bibity Bobity day care. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

At the Port Angeles club, two girls in the same cohort became ill and were tested for the coronavirus. Their tests came back negative, she said.

Keeping children in the same small cohort and taking temperatures before children come in and before they leave helps catch something potentially early, Budke said.

“If something happens, we wouldn’t have to shut down our programs like the free meal programs, and keep our staff safe,” she said.

Port Angeles Childcare

The YMCA of Port Angeles will continue to offer emergency childcare through August 14. Childcare runs from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at Dry Creek Elementary School. Parents can drop off their children from 8-9 a.m. and pick them up from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Capacity for care is eight children and two staff

Once Clallam County moves to phase 3, YMCA officials may offer care for more children but they are waiting to get more information from the state. For more information, contact our Childcare Coordinator, Montesz Kelley-Shears at montesz@olympicpeninsulaymca.org.

Four-year-olds Paisley Allen, left, and Stella Good enjoy some playtime at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. They’re part of an outdoor preschool class to allow for social distancing. Business co-owner Erin Bell said “(The kids) are pretty resilient. We hear them a lot say, ‘I wish this virus would go away.’ They feel it.” Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Four-year-olds Paisley Allen, left, and Stella Good enjoy some playtime at Sequim’s Little Explorers Early Learning Center. They’re part of an outdoor preschool class to allow for social distancing. Business co-owner Erin Bell said “(The kids) are pretty resilient. We hear them a lot say, ‘I wish this virus would go away.’ They feel it.” Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

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