While most of Pennsylvania’s day care centers have closed their doors as the state responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, state human service officials hope that a new online directory will make it easier for first responders, food service workers and other essential personnel to find child care.
The interactive map, which was published on the Department of Human Services website on Friday, catalogues the 700 child care providers that have been granted waivers to operate since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all schools and day care centers to shutter on March 17.
State officials designed the platform to help medical professionals, emergency responders, grocery and food service employees, and public sector human service employees find child care providers if their child care providers are no longer operating.
“Child care providers play a critical role for these families,” Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said in a Friday conference call with reporters. “They allow them to go to work to save and protect lives, ensure food is still available and protect vulnerable communities during this time of crisis.”
More than 5,000 child care providers were licensed to operate in Pennsylvania as of February, according to Department of Human Services Data.
Home-based day care providers, which serve small groups of children, are allowed to stay open during Wolf’s shutdown.
But daycare centers, which provide the bulk of the child care in Pennsylvania, almost universally closed their doors.
Human services officials expect that the 700 centers that have been granted waivers will only serve the children of essential workers until Wolf lifts the statewide COVID emergency declaration.
Officials also say those restrictions will limit the number of children in daycare facilities, thereby reducing the potential for contracting COVID-19. They’ve also instructed child care providers to screen children’s health as they participate in daycare programs.
While the agency hopes their policies will help first responders to find alternative child care, parents still must pay out of pocket for the services, even if they are forced to switch providers.
The Department of Human Services does offer subsidies to low-income families, which are being deployed now to essential employees at grocery stores and service stations, officials said Friday.
Wolf’s shutdown of schools, daycare centers and other businesses is slated to lift on April 6, but he has indicated the orders could be extended based on the recommendations of state health officials.
Child advocates say a prolonged shutdown could be disastrous for the state’s child care sector, and have called on lawmakers to grant more than $150 million in aid and regulatory relief to keep providers afloat during the pandemic.