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Daycare owner closes doors, says State’s temporary guidelines put kids at risk

New temporary guidelines allow Maine daycare's to take in more children and do away with requirements like background checks and orientation for new workers.

BATH, Maine — Terri Crocker spent Tuesday morning wiping down every surface and object at her daycare, Creative Play Childcare located in Bath.

Despite the current demand, Crocker decided Monday afternoon to close her doors until further notice to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

“Children don’t need to be in a petri dish of germs,” Crocker said.

Instead, when only a handful of kids showed up Monday morning, she knew it was the right time to close. Luckily, she said the families who bring their kids to her agreed.

“We don’t want to mix environments up and have these children get sick and then their families get sick the grandparents get sick and you get sick because you walk into a store,” Crocker said. “We need to stop this, we need to slow this curve down and everyone needs to stay home.”

However, Crocker said her decision was about more than germs and that new temporary guidelines provided by the state should be alarming to everyone.

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To help with the soaring demand for childcare amidst the Coronavirus, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services is temporarily changing its guidelines surrounding daycare centers in the state.

The State said daycares have the right to close their doors but are encouraging owners to think of those first responders, state employees and others now looking for childcare before they do.

In an effort to make things easier during an emergency situation, DHHS is temporarily expanding the number of children allowed in one center at a time. Now, there is no limit on how many school-aged children can be in attendance, while leaving requirements for those younger children and infants as they are. If a daycare provider is seeking to do this, it said they are required to speak with their Child Licensing Specialist to ‘thoughtfully waive required ratios in order to ensure the health and safety of children’.

Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine

However, Crocker feels this is dangerous and encourages those daycares who might not currently be following state law to continue doing so.

The state is also temporarily not requiring background checks or orientation be completed for new workers. This would allow centers with higher volumes to take on new staff more quickly, however, those new employees are not allowed to be alone with any of the children.

“I can now hire a stranger to come into my program with no background check… can’t leave them alone though, so don’t try to change a diaper,” Crocker said. “I just cannot ever imagine someone saying that it’s OK to not do a background check on somebody that’s going to come in and help provide care for children.”

Here is a statement from Maine’s DHHS regarding concerns:

In the face of COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services has provided guidance for all licensed child care providers to promote safety of children, families, child care providers, and their communities. At this time, we support providers remaining open in accordance with these guidelines, particularly those serving parents who are essential to Maine’s response, including first responders, health providers, public health staff, and essential state employees. These guidelines recognize the ongoing needs of the public and Maine’s families while prioritizing children’s safety.

With classroom instruction curtailed throughout the state, the need for child care has increased. As a result, the DHHS Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has enacted temporary emergency protocols that allow for a waiver of provider ratios for the care of school-aged children (Pre-K and 4-year-olds and older). Providers must consult with their Child Care Licensing Specialist to thoughtfully waive required ratios in order to ensure the health and safety of children, as outlined in the official guidance from OCFS. 

We have also issued guidance to child care providers regarding the Child Care Subsidy Program to ensure continuity in services for families and providers. These changes correspond closely to those being implemented in other states, including in New England, and were made in accordance with federal guidance. This is a quickly evolving situation and the latest information on the Office of Child and Family Services’ response is available online.

Creative Play Childcare will be closed until further notice, Crocker said she’s keeping her head up and staying optimistic about her financial future, adding – at the end of the day, it’s about doing right by the children.

This story will be updated.

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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