COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - We’re learning new numbers from the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) on child care availability in our state and while we’re seeing an improvement, it’s not by much.
In early April, DSS announced more than 50% of all licensed child care facilities in South Carolina had closed. This week, that number has dropped to about 37% now reported as closed.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of operations to slow down or even close down. Now, with many parents needing to get back to work, the issue of limited child care has become a growing concern.
Upon receiving federal CARES Act dollars for child care, DSS created the SC Voucher program to provide child care assistance to workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 response. Due to the overwhelming response and limited CARES Act funding, the application period for this benefit closed May 8.
Just this week, DSS began accepting applications for “Certificates of Temporary Operation” from organizations interested in helping to fill this need for more child care facilities. The certificates will only be granted to organizations that operate in school districts that are not offering five days of in-classroom instruction. You’ll find that application plus a full list of which child care providers are open or closed by visiting: scchildcare.org.
The lack of child care has also pushed some companies to offer on-site child care options for staff. This includes Nephron Pharmaceuticals, which has gained national attention for its work in the fight against COVID-19.
The company in West Columbia has been offering child care services to its staff since mid-March.
“This gives them the comfort that they know Nephron, their employer, has their back,” said the president and CEO, Lou Kennedy, who also told WIS-TV that as a single parent without much help, she immediately saw the need to offer this support to her employees.
“Those memories came flooding back to me when I realized that there was going to be a possibility with no school. How would I get employees here when we’re considered essential if we don’t provide a backup plan?” Kennedy continued on saying, “We don’t have children that are coming every single day. It’s, okay, one day or two days, maybe grandparents can’t help or there’s absolutely no backup or one of their original plans fell through.”
The program is being described more as a day camp, rather than daycare. It’s available to children who are potty trained and no older than 11 years old.
Nephron Pharmaceuticals staff are considered essential with only one or two out of the 1,200 full-time employees able to work from home.
Another program within the company is helping to operate the day camp. Last year, the educator program was introduced hiring hundreds of certified teachers, in an effort to help supplement their income. Today, there are more than 850 teachers involved. Now, some of those educators are helping the children taking part in the day camp and assisting them with their eLearning responsibilities.
The children in the day camp are also included in the company’s COVID-19 safety measures, including mandatory masks.
Kennedy cheerfully described the kids in the camp saying, “They’re so cute. I don’t know where these parents have found them but I’ve seen all kinds of various types of cute children’s masks. Some of them have Batman. Some of them have these clear miniature ones that look like mom the dental hygienist might use.”
She added, “They’re so cute and so sweet and the teachers – just like they enforce rules in the classroom, they enforce rules here and we do fog our common areas with vaporized hydrogen peroxide, at minimum, twice a day.”
Kennedy said that fog kills bacteria and viruses in the air and on surfaces for hours, explaining that the children’s areas are cleaned just like the spaces for full-time staff.
She said the day camp program has remained small, so far, with no more than 10 children but it’s not clear how that need will grow once school starts this fall. Kennedy also said there’s something truly special in being able to travel to work with your kids, eat lunch together and check on them throughout the work day.