COVID-19 Creates a Patchwork Landscape of Childcare Policies

By Michael Klazema on 9/17/2020

An industry that generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue every year, childcare has sustained severe impacts from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the earliest days of the outbreak, childcare centers shuttered and remained closed for months along with schools and businesses. With school back in session and more parents facing the need to return to work outside their homes, the industry faces considerable strain in its contracted state.

Despite some federal relief legislation that provided funds for childcare, the landscape that parents now face is a complicated one. Many childcare centers remain closed, but families require care before and after school hours in addition to during the day. Responding to these needs, states including New Mexico have implemented a system of temporary worker background checks for friends and family members to meet childcare certification requirements. 

Some states, such as North Carolina, temporarily waived background checks for childcare workers when processing them became difficult due to closures. Others, including California, directed their childcare licensing bureaus to transition to name-based background checks rather than fingerprint-based checks, such as the US OneSEARCH.

The Department of Health and Human Services subsequently issued guidelines shifting federal background check recommendations for childcare to name-based checks. State agencies and childcare centers should still use fingerprint background checks whenever possible, according to HHS, but should otherwise use name-based searches. Agencies must still run a fingerprint background check as soon as they can safely do so. 

Parents should note these policy shifts and consider their potential impact on child welfare. Not everyone can stay at home while their children engage in virtual learning, and many parents need to find an appropriate childcare provider for after school supervision. Even as government agencies and businesses have reopened to some of their pre-pandemic capacity, childcare is sluggish to ramp up again. 

Although most states have stringent rules concerning who can work in this industry, parents should be vigilant, particularly now, and ensure that they understand the vetting that applies to the individuals who may watch their children.

According to ChildCare Aware of America, parents should consider requesting proof of a completed background check from their chosen care agency for peace of mind. CCA also recommends contacting state childcare licensing boards to request information on which measures are currently in place to protect children from bad actors.

With an array of shifts in childcare policy across the country, it is hard to pin down the precise effects on families. One thing is clear, however: parents must find the energy to step up and go the extra mile to ensure safe, secure childcare options during the pandemic.

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