After-school programs are an ‘afterthought’ in COVID-19 guidelines, advocates say – National


The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. have long been a challenge for many parents. Now, as the school year looms in the midst of a global pandemic, it is all the more tricky.Before and after school programs are neglected, advocates say. They believe it’s a blind spot that could increase the risk of COVID-19 among elementary school students, in particular.

“Even though the children in a before and after school program all come from the same school, they continue to use different cohorts,” said Martha Friendly, long-time child care advocate. and founder of Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

“It’s unavoidable.”

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Before and after school programs are essential for many parents who work outside of the school day. But since not all families use these services, some children may get together with different classmates before, during and after school. And since not all schools have their own on-site daycare, some children may even find themselves with students from different schools at some time of the day.

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“So the question is: where do the children in this program come from?” Friendly said.

“Cohort” and “learning groups” will become the norm at many schools in September, as educators follow public health rules to avoid outbreaks of the coronavirus. The tactic aims to minimize the number of students and teachers in contact with each other while maintaining the consistency of these contacts as much as possible.

Group size is a concern

The size of these groups has given rise to many concerns. Advocates say the concern is even greater when before and after school care is taken into account.

Coronavirus: Ontario government doubles changes to plan to reopen schools

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“It’s kind of treated as an afterthought,” said Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

“We try to explain that they are the same children. This whole situation has made it clear that we cannot continue to treat daycares and schools separately. They are the same children and we need a plan.

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In Ontario, schools and daycares will be able to resume their activities at full capacity in September. This will mean that elementary class sizes and groups of up to 30 children will be allowed, although there will be variation between school boards.

In British Columbia schools, students will be placed in learning groups, meaning elementary and middle school students will be grouped up to 60 and high school students in groups of up to 120. full capacity.

In Alberta, where child care concerns are high, the province has allowed a maximum of 30 children and staff in the same space – both in schools and in child care programs.

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At the federal level, the guidelines for child care do not define grouping numbers, but recommend that operators “consider changing program delivery” by reducing the number of children in the same space at the same time. , if physical distance is not possible.

Teachers in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario all demanded smaller class sizes.

Child care advocates say before and after school programs should also be smaller.

“Schools and daycares – the two interact,” Ferns said.

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What can parents and students expect when schools reopen in September?

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Programs try to adapt

For the YMCA, which provides before and after school care to more than 90,000 children aged 4 to 12, adjustments have already been made.

Unlike many operators, the YMCA continued to offer programs throughout the summer, including day care for essential workers and some day camps.

“We’ve learned a lot, but it’s obviously a huge challenge,” said Peter Dinsdale, President and CEO of YMCA Canada.

“Of course, there have been impacts on the ratios that we generally have with staff and children, so we have expanded the facilities, whether it’s using classrooms that we weren’t using before or by making proof of creativity by using outdoor spaces. ”

There are also “practical” challenges, he said.

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“In the pre-COVID era, employees could go to a staff room to prepare snacks, but many staff rooms are now closed,” he said. “So we had to find alternatives like bringing their own snacks or snacks to go, just different approaches to make sure we all met the standards.”

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But while the YMCA has an experience to build on in September, there are many private and licensed operators who have been “completely on their own” to follow already unclear directions, Friendly said.

Many provinces have been criticized that service providers and community stakeholders were not properly consulted before the guidelines were implemented.

This has been a particular sticking point in Ontario, Ferns said.

She said the directive was vague, which left many parents “rightly concerned” and feeling ill-equipped to make the best decision for their children.

“Many parents are worried about these larger groups,” she said. “* And then you have to balance the decision to send your child back to group care programs.”

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Financial problems

The adjustments related to COVID-19 have created financial challenges for daycares and program providers, including the YMCA.

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Between improved cleaning protocols, changing child-to-staff ratios and increased use of facilities, Dinsdale said there were inevitable operational losses.

“We have increased spending and less income,” he said. “Cleaning standards cost more, staff changes cost more. Staffing at all levels is a challenge. ”

But for some small child care providers, the financial challenges have been too much to bear.

Fern said she is aware of many facilities in Ontario that are shutting down for good.

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“For child care programs, financial sustainability hinges on full enrollment,” she said. “There are a lot of child care programs that make their own decisions to try to reduce the size of the groups, but they’re going to pay the price. These are non-profit programs – it’s not about making money, it’s about keeping the doors open. ”

The Trudeau government announced on August 25 that an additional $ 2 billion would be provided to provinces and territories to help ensure that children can return to school safely.

The money can be used to help adapt learning spaces, improve air ventilation, increase hygiene protocols, and purchase additional personal protective equipment (PPE).

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However, the “financial burden on child care” was not addressed, Ferns said.

“We need some coordination. How can we have before and after school programs that limit cohort-to-cohort mixing without additional funding that can keep the size of these groups low? ”

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