JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
For most people, March 11, 2020 was when the COVID-19 crisis first became real. It was the day the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. In the days that followed, major events got cancelled, schools closed, streets emptied and commuters began teleworking.
However, the Child Development Centers at Joint Base Andrews remained open, providing care for hundreds of children while enforcing new safety measures throughout the process.
Though there are three Child Development Centers on JBA, only two centers are currently open: CDCs Two and Three. The centers provide services such as full-day care, before and after school care, and hourly child care on a space-available basis. Their mission is dedicated to providing quality child care through active, hands-on involvement with their environment, peers, and caring adults.
Although the centers stayed open, things changed. New practices and sanitary measures were implemented in order to maximize safety and comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“Our transition was really major for us,” said Olympia Williams, Child Development Program section chief. “We’re people that have to be in the building a lot. We talk to the families, hold meetings, and do a lot of training with our caregivers.”
Immense training is needed to be a caregiver. To ensure successful services throughout COVID-19, CDC staff kept up to date on early childhood development training, first aid and CPR certifications, and life skills training such as budgeting and resume-creating.
“We started doing teleconferences, meetings on Teams, a video conferencing platform, and lots of calls. However, a major concern was making sure the staff were okay,” said Williams. “We had a system where we kept up on our training needs where a portion of staff would come in for two weeks and another portion would stay home and do their training. After two weeks, they'd switch.”
She said it was pivotal to keep track of and maintain proper mental health practices during these times as well. She explained how stressful the job can be as a caregiver and ways they increased morale.
“You truly have to have a passion for young children. Imagine keeping track of 24 8 to 10- year-olds while making sure you’re following all of the rules, regulations and guidelines!” said Williams. “We really try to keep the staff’s morale up by doing ‘Wellness Wednesdays,’ which includes things like virtual Zumba classes and self-care classes.”
The rules, regulations and guidelines for the CDCs increased over the course of COVID-19, however, Williams said that most procedures were already in place before the pandemic.
“A few things that changed were our hours of operation, hands must be washed at our washing stations outside before entering the facility, and caregivers stay separate from the visiting families and in their own communities,” said Williams. “For example, infant caretakers stay with the infants and toddler caretakers stay with toddlers.”
She noted that the staff spends time keeping the CDCs sanitary.
“We’ve always had great sanitation procedures. We just increased them a little bit more to make sure everyone feels safe,” said Williams. “We make sure the toys, tables, pens, markers and our hands are properly sanitized and we’ve been sure to keep current with all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.”
In the beginning of the pandemic, all three CDCs were open. However, as COVID-19 progressed the decision to close CDC One was made due to a decline in children attending the program.
“Some parents were scared to send their children into daycare and some had no choice because they were mission-essential people,” said Williams. “To put their minds at ease, we’ve always made sure that we have the safest possible environment for them!”
Williams also mentioned other organizations were intrigued with the performance of CDCs during the pandemic and posed the question, “How do you do it?”
Currently, the CDC staff has stopped teleworking and returned to work full-time. There are 150 staff between CDC Two, which has 254 children, and CDC Three, which has 232 children. They care for children ranging in age from 6-weeks to 5 years old.
Williams expressed gratitude for the staff.
“Thank God for the staff,” she said. “Thank you for truly caring about children and all the families. You have truly gone above and beyond your calling! Also, thank you to the families for entrusting us with your family!”
Find out more about the JBA Child Development Centers here: https://www.andrewsfss.com/child-development-centers
Or reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.