In a normal year, it can be challenging for parents to patch together (and afford) child care when school’s out for the summer.
COVID-19 cancellations and concerns are now creating a major conundrum. With distance learning ending and businesses reopening, working parents are racking their brains trying to figure out what to do with their kids in the coming months.
Summer camps are closing and delaying start dates. That means parents have to come up with alternative care. Sending the kids to stay with their grandparents is out of the question for many families who don’t want to risk potentially spreading illness to more vulnerable loved ones.
While there may not be a simple solution for your family, here are a few things to consider when making summer 2020 child care plans.
If You’ve Already Enrolled Your Children in Summer Camp
If you signed your kids up for camp earlier in the year, be prepared that those plans could fold. If your camp hasn’t reached out to you already, contact the program director ASAP to verify if the program will still be running as expected and if there will be any changes you’ll need to know about.
Best case scenario: Your family will just have to adapt to new procedures to follow public health guidelines. Staff may need to take your child’s temperature each day, and parents may have to answer additional questions about health symptoms or recent travel. Your camp may recommend or require the use of masks, and limit parents from going into classrooms or certain areas of campus.
Worst case scenario: Camp is cancelled, or the program has to limit attendance and can no longer enroll your child. In this case, you’ll want to reach out to the program director to try and recoup any deposits, prepayments or other fees you paid. Check the organization’s refund policy. Some camps, in a financial bind themselves, are only giving families partial refunds or credit for future sessions another year.
Of course, there are situations that fall in between those two scenarios. Some camps still plan on opening, but a few weeks after their normal start dates. Others are transitioning to virtual camp, which provides entertainment and connection for kids but still inhibits parents from returning to the workplace.
And let’s not ignore the fact that even if your child’s summer camp plans haven’t dissolved, you may not feel comfortable having your kid attend this year. In that case, you’ll need to default to a new plan for summer child care.
If Your Kids Are Spending the Summer at Home
The catch-22 of needing to be at work to make money for your family, but needing to be home to provide care for your kids can be maddening. But if summer camp is not an option, there are other potential solutions you can look into.
If you’ve been successfully working from home these past several weeks, you could ask your employer if you can continue that work arrangement until school starts back up again. Or you could request switching up your schedule so that you’re home when your partner is working, so you can swap child care responsibilities.
Since your kids will no longer have school work or video calls with teachers and classmates to keep them busy, it’s up to you to orchestrate something to fill their days.
Before school ends, ask your children’s teachers if they can recommend resources to keep your kids learning over the summer. Your school system or your city’s parks and recreation department may operate a low-cost or free virtual summer camp. You could also plan out your own summer curriculum. Use this list of free online educational resources to serve as a starting point.
If both parents need to be away from home during the same time frame, you could look into hiring a babysitter or nanny. You may find there’s a larger pool of available caregivers in your area due to higher unemployment. Sharing a child care provider with another family or creating an informal summer camp co-op could help you reduce your summer care expenses.
However, if you’re opening up your home to a caregiver or sending your child to someone else’s home, it could increase the risk of spreading the disease. When screening potential caregivers, ask if they’ve been tested for COVID-19, have experienced related symptoms or have been around anyone exposed to the virus. Discuss safety measures ahead of time. How can social distancing be implemented? Will you require the caregiver to wear a mask? What’s the backup plan if your child or the caregiver becomes ill?
If You Feel Like You Have No Options for Summer Child Care
Though it isn’t ideal, taking a leave of absence from work or quitting your job may be your last resort. If that is the route you have to take, know that there are special protections in place for parents who can’t work — or telework — due to lack of child care during this pandemic.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave — at two-thirds of their salary — if they have to care for a child whose school is closed or child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
To be covered, you must work for a private company that employs fewer than 500 people (though employers with less than 50 workers may be exempt), and you must have been working for that company for at least 30 days. Workers taking this leave are capped at earning $200 a day or $12,000 in total over the entire duration.
If you quit or lose your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Check out our guide on how to file for PUA.
However, with millions out of work, it can be very challenging to make your way through the process and actually receive benefits — not to mention the difficulty you’ll face finding a new job once your child care dilemma is resolved. You might also have a hard time proving you need to leave work due to child care reasons — unless your child was already enrolled in a summer program and that program was cancelled.
Taking a leave of absence or quitting your job should be considered only if you’ve exhausted all other options.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.