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Child care becomes critical issue as Florida begins to reopen

Hillsborough County says 35 percent of child care programs remain closed.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Child care, especially during summer and amid a pandemic, is a critical issue. 

As Florida begins to reopen, parents are going back to the office and trying to find care in already limited child care programs is not always easy or affordable.

Right now, out of the approximately 1,060 child care programs in Hillsborough County, 372 remain closed.  That represents 35 percent of the licensed programs in Hillsborough.

The manager of child care licensing in the county told leaders with the Emergency Policy Group that some programs have closed because of health concerns for students and staff, lack of enrollment or restrictions from the state.

Those restrictions include: limiting group size to 10 -- including providers, not allowing groups or teachers to intermingle, strict sanitizing procedures and screening children upon arrival.

The restrictions limit how many families program can serve.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is one of many summer day camp programs that will be open.  They pushed back the start date to June 22 which gives them more time to adjust. 

Cara Treadway is the senior director of guest engagement at ZooTampa.  She says this summer will be different, but still give children the engagement they desperately need.  The zoo has new procedures based on a rough draft of CDC guidelines provided to them.

“We’re still a couple weeks out from camp.  So, that’s one of the luxuries that we have with moving the camps a little bit further is that as more and more of this material and more of these guidelines and directions come down from CDC will have that ample time to put those policies into place,” she said.

Treadway acknowledged that guidelines vary from the national level to states and localities. They’ve worked to find what will work best to keep campers, counselors and the animals safe.  

“There’s a lot of information out there.  It is a little piecemeal, so you definitely need to know where to look for it and I’ve really relied on the American Camping Association, ACA, for a lot of the information they have been given,” she said.

Treadway also has calls with other zoos and aquariums to talk about what camp will look like for children and parents.

She says in addition to limiting groups to fewer than 10, they will take daily temperature checks, offer no-contact activities and have a plan in place for confirmed cases.

The Zoo plans to accommodate a little less than 500 children over the course of 7 weeks.  There is already a wait list for spots.

The Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County has identified programs that have availability and can help parents find child care.

They’re one of several groups, Angela Chowning with child care licensing spoke about during the Emergency Policy Group meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Commissioners asked her about consistency with guidelines.  Chowning acknowledged the recommendations vary.  She says programs must follow state restrictions and said CDC guidelines are strong recommendations to consider.

It came the same day as the Associated Press published that the Trump Administration had shelved a CDC report to guide local and state authorities as they re-open.  It offered step-by-step advice for everything from restaurants to child care programs.

10Investigates went through the report and noted that through phase 3, it encouraged limiting gatherings, interaction from classroom to classroom, taking daily temperature checks and strong sanitizing procedures. 

It lines up with much of what DCF has already asked child care providers to do.  The agency did not respond to questions about whether it had seen these recommendations or had plans to lift any of the restrictions currently in place.

The Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County can help any parents looking for child care and will continue to offer subsidized care for first responders and health care workers.

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