Unsung heroes

Some of the city’s most valuable resources during the pandemic? The trusted professionals who care for our children, Jon Willing writes

Miles Willing plays at Parkdale Park after a day at pre-school_Photo Credit Jon Willing

It was an easy decision for my wife and I when child-care providers were allowed to reopen after the first pandemic lockdown in summer 2020.

Our son Miles, who was a few months shy of two years old, would go back. Juggling the demands of a young toddler while working full-time wasn’t going to work. Plus, Miles loves to be around other kids.

Of course, guilt followed the quick verdict, which was required in short order by our child-care centre so staff could start planning COVID-19 safeguards.

What were we doing sending our boy to a group setting when a mysterious illness gripped our community?

We put our trust into the staff at our licensed child-care centre and a year later, we haven’t regretted it.

In celebrating institutions that have pulled our family through the pandemic, child care ranks at the top of the list by a long shot.

The public health crisis, and the resulting lockdowns, has challenged most families like nothing else before.

Routines were reformatted.

Work schedules were shifted.

Stress mounted.

Child care families are lucky to have been offered some solace.

As a result, working parents of toddlers who are privileged to have child care options might be somewhere near the top of a best-case-scenario list for the pandemic. While schools have gone through a rollercoaster of closures and reopenings, child care in Ontario has largely kept operating since summer 2020 without being forced to close or go “virtual,” like so many other activities.

Meanwhile, child-care staff, many of whom have their own children, showed up for work in potentially risky environments to care for our kids. 

Many got creative and embraced technology to deliver programming before they could return to their workplaces. In the case of our child-care centre, educators during the first lockdown booked regular Zoom chats with all the kids to read a story, even when many were taking care of their own kids at home. It was classy and hugely impressive.

With child-care centres open, the burden on parents has been relatively small. In our case, temperature checks and an online health questionnaire must be completed before Miles arrives at our child care each day. Dropoff and pickup times are regimented to avoid mixing age groups, reducing families’ flexibility in their schedules, but all for good reason.

It’s amazing how resilient, or maybe just happy-go-lucky, kids can be when their environment suddenly changes. They returned to child care seeing their teachers wearing masks and other personal protective gear. Parents weren’t allowed inside the building and they, too, had to mask up while approaching the front door. Educators were packing kids into snowsuits at the end of the day, a job usually left to parents in a small vestibule. Kids learned that “bubbles” aren’t just twinkly spheres that mommy or daddy blows out of a little plastic hoop.

Then again, perhaps it has all become normal for kids. It recently occurred to me that, by the time the worst of the pandemic is over, Miles will have spent the majority of his young life under public health measures and restrictions.

I credit child-care staff for making these strange days less scary for families. They have rolled with whatever public health authorities have demanded of their centres. Their work has been essential. They have provided a safe and fun environment for children when clouds of uncertainty loomed.

The city will need to award 100 keys to the city when the pandemic is over for the monumental efforts people have made to care for others. When the time comes, I hope one key can recognize all of Ottawa’s child-care providers.