Update: July 31, 1 p.m. -- Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell responded to Amy Hathaway's comments regarding the lack of county funding for children of families receiving assistance from the Department of Social Services. Gsell's statement is at the bottom of this story.
With the COVID-19 pandemic showing few signs of letting up and with some school districts making plans to reopen with both in-school and at-home learning, day care center operators are facing new challenges as they strive to keep their businesses afloat.
The Batavian reached out to several child care centers in Genesee County and was met with concerns over issues such as hygiene and social distancing, Payroll Protection Program loans, school day schedules and teaching requirements, and the lack of Genesee County’s support for lower-income families in need of day care services.
At Kelly’s Imagination Station, which has three locations in Genesee County and three in Erie County, activity is picking up – although the Robert Morris branch on Union Street in Batavia is temporarily closed.
However, at Little Guppies Childcare in Bergen and Precious Play Care in Darien Center, the recent going has been rough for a variety of reasons.
The Genesee Community College Association Child Care Center also has been closed since mid-March (once classes were canceled due to the coronavirus) but will be opening in about three weeks.
And at the Genesee Area YMCA, officials said they currently are offering a summer camp for families needing child care, but aren’t sure what will be available going forward.
KELLY’S IMAGINATION STATION
Enrollment is nearly at capacity at the facility at 5079 Clinton Street Road, said director Jessie Steffenilla, adding that Kelly’s took over the former Grandma’s Loving Care in May 2019.
“We’re pretty much a full house, with over 100 kids (the maximum is 112) enrolled at this location,” she said. “As far as staffing, we still have from my location five people that are furloughed but probably by September, they all will be back and we may even add staff.”
Steffenilla said her company accepts children from 6 weeks to 12 years old and the ratio of staff to children ranges from 1:4 in the infant classroom to 1:10 for school-age attendees. All of the classrooms typically have two teachers, she said.
Kelly’s Imagination Station has set up a system for families of school-age children in the Batavia City School District to provide a learning environment, Steffenilla said. The Batavia district announced it is looking to go with a “hybrid” schedule of two days in school and three days out of school for most of its students.
“We are hiring bachelor degree teachers to run our school-age classrooms at all of our locations so they can do literacy throughout the day, and provide open art and gym with our outdoor playground,” she said. “And we will have instruction time, with the availability to get the kids on their Zoom meetings with Wi-Fi here -- that we would be willing to upgrade if needed.”
As with most child care businesses, Kelly’s provides lunch, breakfast and snacks – included in the tuition cost.
All three Genesee County sites have protocols in place to deal with COVID-19, Steffenilla said. They include: hand sanitizing upon entry into the vestibule; teachers wearing masks at all times when they’re in the classrooms with children; frequent hand washing; maximum group sizes of no more than 15; sending kids home if they have temperatures over 100; and visitors having to answer questions pertaining to the coronavirus.
Steffenilla said there have been no cases of the virus at any of their locations. Her sister, Emilie, runs the center on Tountas Avenue in the Village of Le Roy, which currently is serving about 40 children (out of a maximum of about 70).
Jessie Steffenilla said the Robert Morris site is expected to reopen on Aug. 17. She said it had closed because many families, due to the pandemic, were not in need of child care, while those that did, moved their kids over to Clinton Street Road.
LITTLE GUPPIES CHILDCARE
Amy Hathaway, owner of Little Guppies Childcare on Rochester Street in Bergen for the past nine years, said a decision by the Genesee County Department of Social Services to not issue DSS payments to daycare providers has put her in a real bind.
“In my center, I had every family except the families that needed DSS to help them with child care costs pay full tuition even though their child wasn't here,” she said. “It was an option for Genesee County to pay providers, but they chose not to, although Erie County did pay their providers. I lost a thousand dollars a week because of this.”
Hathaway said she accepted these students because she wanted “to provide a great program to families that might otherwise not have access to one.”
“Instead of helping child care centers stay in business, they took funding from us,” she said, providing a letter from DSS that stated the county commissioner and director of financial services decided “to waive the family share and to give additional time to families who were having to recertify for daycare assistance during the pandemic.”
Hathaway said she was able to stay open only because of a Payroll Protection Program loan.
“It is upsetting because this decision could have closed my doors,” she said. “I am still struggling but I have had a few of the DSS kids return to care. At a time when child care is so crucial. this type of decision making is unacceptable.”
Currently, her staff of eight is taking care of about 40 children (maximum is 45).
She said she is working with parents to allow students to do their school work online at the center, with her staff providing educational assistance in a situation where the student’s particular school has opted for a virtual or hybrid schedule.
“We’re just hoping that (federal) aid starts picking up because I know everyone is looking to try to help child care, and it’s just a bummer that our county didn’t help us,” she offered. “I have been doing a lot of tours, and see that a lot of daycare centers are closing because I would imagine, they’re not getting payments.”
Hathaway said that a nearby child care center – All Natural Kids – recently closed.
PRECIOUS PLAY CARE
At Precious Play Care on Broadway Road in Darien Center, owner Kim Alvord said business has decreased by 75 percent and currently the center is functioning at about 30 percent of its normal capacity.
“We have 64 children enrolled, but today there are 20,” she said, explaining that the decline is partly because of COVID restrictions but mostly because both parents have yet to return to work.
Operating for 28 years, Alvord said the center services people from well beyond Genesee County.
“We have (preschool) children from all over depending upon people’s way (route) to work,” she said. “We have people from Royalton, but they work in Alden and some people who work in Brockport but live in Erie County. They bring their kids here because we’re on the way.”
Alvord said her center’s school students’ program is only for holidays and before and after school.
“They take the bus from the child care center to school and back here after school,” she said. “We’re not set up for students all year as we do not have internet; we’re not teachers.”
She said she is thankful that she qualified for PPP and Small Business Administration loans, but is worried that she may have to pay the SBA loan back.
“I haven’t found out the details yet,” she said, noting that she has 12 employees to consider. “I’m trying to keep my doors open for people. During the whole thing from March, we had about 16 kids – children of essential workers. It will take a couple of years to catch up for sure.”
GCC ASSOCIATION CHILD CARE
Closed in March due to low enrollment, the Genesee Community College Child Care Center will reopen on Aug. 24, placing a priority on serving children of its students but also for faculty and community residents, Director Kayleen McEwan said.
“We accept children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, preschoolers, and we have space available,” McEwan said, adding that she can accommodate 50 children per day. “It’s much lower at this time because of the virus.”
McEwan said child care centers already have strict health and safety guidelines in place, meeting the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. “We’re constantly sanitizing and cleaning,” she said.
She said the center employs 10 full-time teachers who “all are eager to get back to work.”
GENESEE AREA FAMILY YMCA
Jeff Townsend, district executive director, said employees there are taking a wait-and-see approach as school is about to restart.
“At this point, the YMCA intends to offer child care this coming fall if permitted by the governor’s mandates to schools and within the approved regulations from OCFS (Office of Children and Family Services), the state regulatory agency for child care,” he said. “Unfortunately, at this time, we are in the waiting game for those decisions to be made.”
Townsend said that once final decisions are made, the YMCA will let people know what child care offerings it can provide in the districts it serves.
Normally, the YMCA offers its day camp before and after school and a “vacation fun club” for days when school is not in session.
The director of the Agri-Business Child Development on Brooklyn Avenue in Batavia did not return an email seeking comment.
From County Manager Jay Gsell:
Genesee County DSS did under NYS Department of Health guidance grant two waivers for day care center/DSS eligible children attendance in regard to eligibility deadline extension and the family share contribution which is more than some other local rural county DSS agencies did. In our Family services plan that NYS approves, waiver options like what Monroe or Erie did on payments without attendance was also an option but our Genesee County DSS didn’t have any supplemental funding like Erie and Monroe got from the federal CARES Act 1/2 to the tune of over $100 million each, which only five to six NYS counties with populations over 500,000 were eligible for and Community Development Block Grant entitlement cities like Buffalo and Rochester.