Ellenberg: Childcare should be at the center of recovery efforts
Santa Clara County Supervisors Susan Ellenberg is pictured in this file photo.

We are into our seventh week of sheltering in place in Santa Clara County. We have been told that we are flattening the curve, that our hospital systems are not overwhelmed, that we are continuing to procure PPE and that we are developing a plan to put in place widespread contact tracing.

The public health officers of the six Bay Area counties who have been working in concert to contain the spread of the virus made an announcement this week regarding the shelter in place order, previously set to expire Sunday.

I firmly believe that if we want to reopen our economy and have people going back to work, we must prioritize childcare as part of the recovery plan. According to the order made by the Santa Clara County Office of Education, schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year. And summer options are elusive at this point.

For parents who have been fortunate enough to work from home, it has been a challenge to juggle their professional responsibilities and the needs of their children. If their workplaces reopen, will they be expected to return to the office full-time? Who will care for their children with schools closed and if traditional summertime options are unavailable?

For parents who have been on the frontlines as essential workers — many of whom have been juggling a patchwork of childcare options — what support can they expect?

And finally, for parents who have lost their jobs, what options will be available to afford them the time to find another job?

The health and wellbeing of this county’s children and families has been at the center of my work and the driver for my seeking elected office. If we are serious about our plans to lift the shelter in place in any capacity, then we must include mitigation for childcare.

So here are my suggestions to those tasked with making these decisions — our public health officer, county and cities.

Community centers should be reopened and the three-hour programs run by parks and rec staff reinstated and augmented. We might tap our talented teaching corps for additional personnel as needed. But let’s not stop there.

Let’s petition the state Health and Human Services Department for a waiver to operate longer day programs while schools remain closed. Let’s partner with home care providers to offer extended programming at city sites, which can be developed in compliance with adapted social distancing rules. Let’s include city and county libraries, which have already stepped up to fill the gaps.

Let’s maintain small ratios, keep the same groups of children together and preclude large scale interactions. Let’s do temperature and symptom checks every morning and line up substitute providers in case of employee illness. Most importantly, let’s identify and chase every available dollar of reliable and sustainable funding — FEMA, state cost recovery funds, philanthropic dollars and local subsidies.

We have all made great sacrifices throughout this unprecedented time in order to save lives. Now we must all do our part to ensure that parents are fully supported with access to childcare so they can return to work.

I have said this time and time again: Access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a key component of economic stability. In the era of COVID-19 and its fallout, nothing has become more clear than the integral role that our schools, summer programming and childcare facilities play to keep Silicon Valley’s engine running. So let’s not leave them behind in our race to reopen.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg represents Santa Clara County District 4, which includes the unincorporated Burbank and Cambrian communities in San Jose as well as the cities of Campbell, Santa Clara and West San Jose.

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