Daycare space limited due to COVID guidelines

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Even as the province continues to ease restrictions on licensed child-care centres, Teddy Bears Picnic Children’s Centre in Creemore is currently operating at just over one third of pre-COVID-19 capacity.

According to Teddy Bears Director, Shannon Hatherley, before the facility shut down on March 16, they served a total of 66 children, both part time and full time. Since the centre reopened July 6, that number has been reduced to 24 full time spaces. Guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Education would have allowed an increase from 10 children per cohort to 15 effective this week, but Hatherley says they are taking things slowly to ensure everyone stays safe.

Perhaps the most visible change for families using Teddy Bears Picnic is the pick-up and drop-off procedure. Parents are no longer permitted inside classrooms, so a screener is posted at the entrance to check temperatures of parents and children each morning, and go through a set of health screening questions. Once children are inside, staff are working to make the daycare experience as normal as possible, even as they keep children separated by cohort. Hatherley says the one thing children really miss is the group walks through the community which used to be a regular part of the Teddy Bears routine.

COVID-19 guidelines from the Ministry of Health and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit require that daycare staff be limited to a single cohort, which is impacting overall staffing levels. As a result the hours at Teddy Bears have been reduced. Previously, they operated from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. New hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hatherley says as a daycare centre, constant cleaning was always the norm, but now everything must be documented.

Clearview Township Council is keeping a close eye on the availability of childcare in the area. In a recent report, Ward One Councillor Phyllis Dineen noted that early in the pandemic, 143 licensed childcare centres in Simcoe County had closed. While most have now reopened, albeit with reduced capacity, availability of licensed childcare spaces remains a problem. Dineen cited the example of a couple of young emergency service workers who were interested in returning to work but were unable to find childcare. The challenge is especially great for those with very young children.
Clearview Council has passed a motion supporting the County of Simcoe in its efforts to expand the number of available spaces in licensed daycare facilities for front line workers and others seeking to return to work. Dineen is hopeful that in the future, more workplaces will integrate childcare facilities for their employees. She says people come to Clearview for the rural lifestyle because it is a great place to raise children, but they often find it difficult to access services.

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