COVID-19 has changed so much in our community. We know all caregivers have been navigating challenges to keep their kids safe during the pandemic. We also know that many caregivers have had to find new and emergency forms of childcare for their babies, school-aged kids, and teens. Community organizations across Monroe, Wayne, Livingston, Seneca, Ontario, and Yates counties are currently trying to meet the needs of caregivers. As we all continue to navigate this strange new world, we want to make sure that resources, supports, and assistance are informed by data. Most importantly, we want to make sure that the decisions being made are informed by family voices. 

That's why Healthi Kids in partnership with the United Way of Greater Rochester, Finger Lakes Community Schools, United Way of Ontario County, Child Care Council, Child and Family Resources, Wayne MOST, and the Greater Rochester After School and Summer Alliance, came together in Fall 2020 to launch a study to better understand families perceptions and childcare needs during COVID-19. We kicked off our work together by an initial survey where we asked parents in Wayne and Monroe counties what was going on with their childcare needs throughout the pandemic. 

 

What parents needed in Fall 2020

We began this work with a survey in November 2020. We asked parents in both Wayne and Monroe Counties what their current needs are when it comes to childcare. 175 families responded and shared with us that they were tired, exhausted, and the lack of consistency in childcare during the pandemic has been incredibly difficult for them. We also learned:

  • The majority of families shared that it has been difficult to access childcare in the last six months

  • 40.5% of families have missed work because of unmet childcare needs

  • 68% of Monroe County parents shared they're uncomfortable with letting their children participate in childcare

  • When asked what would make their child care situation better, families shared they wanted to see: 

    • Additional income support

    • Flexible time off policies at work

    • Opportunities for in-person learning 

    • The COVID-19 vaccine

You can read the full results of our initial survey here. When we shared out the results with the childcare community we knew there was work to do. Healthi Kids worked alongside our partners to amend state-wide regulations and developed better communication pathways between the providers and their families. There was also recognition that the survey data only shared with us so much, and that we needed to dig deeper into what parents needed as we moved into planning for the summer. 

Digging deeper into parents needs in Spring 2021

Knowing that we needed to talk directly with parents, our partnership grew in the spring and we began to conduct focus groups in 6 counties in the Finger Lakes region.  Throughout the late spring of 2021 talked with 36 parents across the region from from Monroe, Wayne, Seneca, Yates, Ontario, and Livingston counties. 

 

Parents in the Finger Lakes region are concerned about the impact COVID-19 has had on their children 

During the focus groups, parents shared their worries about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s mental health and emotional well-being. Increased investment in social emotional learning, opportunities for authentic relationship building between peers and adults (e.g. out of school time, sports, and/or experiential learning), mental health resources and supports and early intervention services will be critical for children moving forward in the pandemic. 

  • A majority of parents reported their children have become less productive and enjoyed school less since the transition to virtual learning. 

  • Parents agreed their children most need:

    • More interaction with other children for healthy socialization 

    • More time with friends 

    • More time outside of the house

    • A return to in-person child care and school to provide a semblance of normal

  • The majority of parents shared that they were comfortable with letting their children attend in-person programming 

 

What parents value from their childcare providers

Shoutout to our rock star childcare providers. Parents throughout the focus groups praised their work throughout COVID-19 and appreciated all that they have done to protect their children. 

  • Parents have most appreciated:

    • Clear and consistent communication from childcare providers

    • Understanding from daycare staff about scheduling difficulties 

    • Enhanced cleaning/safety protocols  

    • Transparent messaging about cleaning/safety protocols

 

What parents still need from child care providers

Despite all of the great things the providers have done to ensure kids have safe and accessible care throughout the pandemic, parents shared some significant challenges. Many issues childcare advocates have seen in the system were exacerbated because of the pandemic. Parents shared with us a number of concerns related to affordability, accessibility and flexibility. Here's what we learned: 

  • A majority of parents, particularly essential workers, reported feeling constant tension between being able to keep their job and finding care for their children.
  • COVID-19 pushed many parents to seek alternative childcare options including family members and friends, at-home daycare, and private babysitters

  • Parents continued to express frustration with the: 

    • Lack of flexibility in scheduling, especially the lack of hours outside of the traditional workday 

    • Requirements to “hold their place” at their provider when their child isn’t attending

    • Accessibility of locations, especially in rural regions 

    • Lack of options 

    • Affordability of childcare 

To read the full report of the focus groups please visit here.

Next Steps

Parents voice collected throughout this study will continue to inform our community's advocacy to ensure high quality, accessible childcare for all kids in our region. 

The study results have been shared with the Governor's office, our local state elected officials, and with the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council. Healthi Kids continues to work alongside our partners in the childcare community to ensure that barriers in accessing child care are addressed. 

To get involved with this advocacy please reach out to us at info@healthikids.org

To read the full report of the focus groups click here.