New state rules on New Hampshire’s child care providers could result in children being turned away at the door by their current caregivers.
Now Gov. Chris Sununu and his team are reassessing new restrictions on child care centers, which he described Wednesday as looking good on paper but problematic for providers at a time when kids need care because their parents are being asked to return to work.
“My promise to a lot of folks over the past 24 and 48 hours has been we’re going to take another look,” Sununu said during Wednesday’s news briefing. “We don’t want to become so impractical that these facilities aren’t opening their doors, so the overall assessment there is we’re talking to the team today, we’re going to be taking a look at it and if we have to make revisions, we’re willing to do that.”
And not a moment too soon, say New Hampshire child care center operators, who argue that the administration’s restrictions are unworkable.
“St. Peter’s would lose 165 spots. That’s over half our enrollment,” Lisa Cormier, director of St. Peter’s Home on Manchester’s West Side, told the Josiah Bartlett Center. “People look at it from the financial standpoint, but it’s 165 children that now have no place to go.”
“The point was to make people more comfortable with child care so they would go back to work. But instead it’s cut us off at the knees. At St. Peter’s, it’s 165 kids, but it’s literally thousands across the state.”
Sununu said he is not going to make any promises on what might change, but he did mention the size of groups, managing social distancing of children inside and outdoors, as well as the requirement that staff members wear masks at all times.
“We’re trying to provide child care in a safe and secure and a happy manner. You want kids to enjoy the process there and make sure that it is nothing that is so different that it becomes out of the norm for them,” Sununu said.
Under new Stay At Home 2.0 guidance updated on Monday, child care programs must reduce group sizes and limit child care rooms to no more than 10 people total, including children and adults.
For child care facilities that have multiple rooms, providers must consistently keep the same groups of children and staff together.
Space seating, bedding and activities must keep children in the same group six feet apart whenever possible.
Children in separate groups must avoid interaction during lunch and outdoor play.
Officials wrote that outdoor play should occur in staggered shifts. There was guidance for the removal of certain toys and materials from outdoor play spaces.
Children must also avoid interaction with kids outside their group at the beginning and end of the day, according to the Stay At Home 2.0 guidance. Child care professionals dismiss these guidelines as unrealistic.
“We will do our very best to keep them six feet apart, but it’s just not going to happen,” Nicole Lamarche, co-owner of the Learning Tree in Londonderry, told the Union-Leader. “They’ve been secluded like us for 11-plus weeks,” she said.
Child care providers were also told they and other staff “must wear reusable/washable cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth at all times while at work.” This includes in child care areas, outdoors when other adults or children are around, and in shared staff areas such as offices and break rooms, even if other individuals are not immediately present, according to the guidance.
In February, New Hampshire’s child care facilities had a capacity of 46,000 children. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 6,000 children of essential workers were being cared for, and without the new restrictions.
With the new limits on the number of children per facility, some families will find themselves turned away at the door by their current providers unless the administration modifies its regulations.
N.H. Joint Information Center spokesperson Paul Raymond said that because child care centers don’t have to register with the state to reopen and owners are simply being asked to follow guidance, they do not know how many spots are currently available for children under the new Stay At Home 2.0 guidance.
Child Care Aware of N.H. is a statewide child care resource and referral program. They have an online map of early childhood and school-age programs within the state.
They have also assembled a list of people willing to provide child care, including people who will babysit or nanny, and are posting that contact information on their website, nh.childcareaware.org.