Child care has always been an essential service but COVID-19 has brought to light how much families rely on these programs, especially low income families. During this pandemic child care programs have stepped up to offer free child care to essential workers despite the barriers and challenges social distancing and other restrictions have presented. This is especially apparent at the Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis where youth workers have been putting in extra effort to serve the children of their community.
In an interview with Lauren Day, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis, she talked about the experience of one student in particular who became homeless right before the pandemic. The student’s mother is a health care worker whose irregular schedule during the pandemic would have left the child alone a considerable amount of time without the help of the Boys and Girls Club.
At the Club the student has access to their own Chrome Book to complete schoolwork with help from caring staff. This child received considerable support from his school, as well as ample opportunities to socialize with other children. With schools closed, most of those supports and interactions vanished – emphasizing the critical role expanded learning programs play for vulnerable children. But at the Boys and Girls Club he has access to meals, technology, and support from peers and staff.
While the Club is going above and beyond to support the children of essential workers in their facilities, and the children they normally serve by picking up and delivering homework packets and meals to families, there are still challenges to running the program. Normally this Club is able to serve 130 kids, but with social distancing in place the program is now capped at 36, and they have a waiting list of over 200 kids. They are hoping to be able to serve 60 kids this summer by using vacant spaces in school buildings. But that will depend on if they will be able to fund the staff necessary to run another space.
Funding is a huge issue for the Club. Only being established three years ago, their funding streams are highly sensitive to sudden drops in attendance, not to mention the free care they have been providing. Day has urged legislators to help provide funding opportunities for community based organizations to continue this care and stay in business. She also stated that she was grateful that their local school district had been so willing to work with and support the Club by providing meals, nursing support, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and the use of a local school’s outdoor facility.
COVID has presented an enormous amount of challenges for child care programs everywhere. The Boys and Girls Club of Chehalis has risen to the occasion and is doing amazing work for the children of their community. This summer will be a challenge for the child care sector, but with the collaboration of legislators, community based organizations, and school districts the children of Washington will continue to learn, grow, and flourish.