INDIANAPOLIS — Experts say even in the best of times, child care providers operate on razor-thin margins. COVID-19 has made things even worse, making Early Learning Indiana’s “Come Back Stronger Fund” that much more dire.
East Tenth United Methodist Children and Youth Center serves families on the Indianapolis east side and was forced to close in the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have a lot of families that have essential jobs that are out there, home health care, those never ended,” says Jean Casmir Hill, executive director. “If you’re a manager at a gas station, you need to be there. So we just really needed to open up.”
Re-opening in June, they knew they had to add many safety precautions — which increased expenses.
Everything from outdoor check-ins and screenings, installing an outdoor sink for kids to wash their hands before entering the building.
“Sanitizing units for the classroom where, if you’re playing with a toy, they can be instantly sanitized right away,” she said. “Water fountains were shut down. You can’t be drinking and sharing out of water fountain, so we were able to buy water fountains with the dispensers.”
Thanks to several grants including the Come Back Stronger Fund, from Early Learning Indiana with support from Lilly Endowment, they’re now also ordering shade structures and expanding their fenced-in outdoor space, so kids can social distance even more.
“One of the most important things I think many families have learned throughout the pandemic is the importance of child care,” says Jennifer Erbacher, Early Learning Indiana spokesperson. “It is essential for our children’s well-being, our own well-being, our families well being, for our community’s. Because without great child care solutions, we can’t work.”
So far, Early Learning Indiana has awarded $13.1 million to 1,025 providers across the state with anywhere from $2,000 to 40,000 depending on enrollment and need.
“That 1,025 providers we’ve impacted through these grants actually affects 45,300 Hoosier children,” said Erbacher.
“All of these things we would not be able to do without this specific funding,” said Casmir Hill.
There is about $1.8 million left in the fund, which Early Learning Indiana has prioritized for critical service gaps across the state. The organization plans on pouring the money into communities that lack quality child care.