Enrollment is a constant concern for many child care programs across the country right now. At the same time, caring for small children while supporting distance learning of elementary aged children and working full time is impossible and unsustainable for parents. So why, then, do we see programs struggling with enrollment?
A Slow Return to Child Care
One reason may be that some families have adjusted work schedules, such that they are able to cover all or a portion of the day caring for their children and piecing work together here and there as they are able to. Another reason may be high-risk health factors that result in the family needing to stay truly isolated right now.
More likely, though, is that parents are not yet comfortable sending their children back into care because they aren’t sure if their children, or family, will be safe (see articles here, here, and here). In these cases, keeping your children home while you try to work feels like the wrong thing to do, but sending your child back into a potentially unsafe environment also feels like the wrong thing to do. You can trust me on this – I’m a working mom who has been through both of these hard choices. Now that my children have successfully been back at child care for several months, I’m able to pinpoint some of the factors that helped us move forward.
Our son’s infant/toddler program teachers are like family to us. While day-to-day communication hasn’t always been pristine, on the whole we trust them implicitly with our child. We can, and have, always felt welcome to ask any question we may have, or share any anxiety or concern. They thoughtfully take in our questions, and respond in a way that makes us feel heard, and like we’re partners with them. We’re all in this together, right?
Increased Health & Safety Practices
In many states, child care licensing and local health departments have worked hard to require certain practices to help mitigate risk from Covid-19. You are probably already following these practices, and have probably noticed a decrease in common childhood illnesses which is a silver lining. BUT have you shared these practices with prospective new families?
Making posts in local parent online groups to share that your program is open and accepting enrollment in a safe, small, nurturing environment – followed by your specific health and safety practices – could be the information a nervous parent needs to take that next step and contact you for a (virtual!) first tour.
If you have a website, which is something all programs working with Wonderschool have, you should share this information here as well. Make sure it’s the first thing parents see when they land on your website. Call it out in several places. Add the information to your parent handbook. Post reminders at your program’s entrances, and share in your newsletters.
Cliff notes version of safety practices all child care programs should be following:
- Daily symptom checks of all children and staff
- Exclusion of anyone with any symptoms
- Spending as much time outside as possible
- Smaller group sizes, when possible
- Stable groups of children and staff
- Increased sterilization and cleaning practices
- A concrete plan in the event a child, family member, or staff member tests positive for Covid-19
Leadership + Communication
In such a scary and unpredictable time, it’s more important than ever for you to be a proactive leader of your program (even though it’s completely normal and understandable if everything feels outside of your direct control right now).
Things like making sure you know your COVID-related policies inside and out, making sure you’re communicating this information to parents (prospective AND enrolled) before they have to ask for it, ensuring you’re following all of your identified practices – each of these actions will help reassure parents that even though things may be less than ideal all around at the moment, they can trust you as a partner through this time.
Pro tip: If you tell parents you have a particular practice, such as washing kids’ hands upon arrival, or transitioning your indoor environment into a shoe-free zone, make sure to follow your own rules. Parents will notice when you don’t, and this creates little seeds of uncertainty that you want to avoid in your efforts to build strong relationships with families.
Adding in New Practices
In the (extremely unlikely) event that you haven’t adjusted any of your day-to-day practices during COVID, well, there’s no time like the present to start. And once you get things organized, start spreading the word among your broader community.
No matter how long you’ve been offering a COVID-safe (as safe as possible, let’s stay realistic here) program, you can always make tweaks and updates to your practices. It’s advisable to share these updates with staff and enrolled families consistently, and you may consider also updating your prospective families with periodic updates and check ins as well.
Need some additional tips on running your program in the era of Covid-19? Check out Wonderschool’s COVID-19 Resources guide.
Have you done a “Marketing Check” of your program lately? Wonderschool has a tool to help you assess your program’s appeal to interested families. Reach out to learn more.