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Childcare providers staying connected during COVID protocols

'It is great to know that people are recognizing the need for childcare providers and to know the economy can’t really reopen without us there'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

Raising a child is not an easy task.

Raising someone else’s kids as a career isn’t an easy task either, and it is an often-underappreciated role that never seems to get the credit it deserves.

Childcare providers are educating, nurturing, feeding, entertaining and helping young minds develop daily. They have always been a much-needed service for many parents and when the COVID-19 protocols came into effect in March, there was suddenly an even bigger realization of just how much these people do for our children.

A few childcare providers in North Bay decided that even though they were no longer being compensated, they still wanted to help the families at their centre and came up with an idea to stay in touch.  

“We discussed ways of being able to stay connected with the children,” says Bobbi-Sue Desjardine.  “We thought that starting a Facebook group would be best because we would be able to post videos and interactive activities.”

Along with Nicole Cotnam and Lyndsay Raycraft the trio has done everything from filming themselves singing some of the kid’s favourite songs, to reading stories to hosting live arts and crafts workshops within the Facebook group.

Desjardine says, “I’ve run into a few families in the community over the last month and they have said the kids couldn’t wait to hear us reading or singing or doing these activities. You really saw the excitement in some of the videos or the pictures the parents would post.”

She adds, “we left most of the singing and reading up to Nicole because at our centre she’s basically the entertainer…I think she wants her own YouTube channel now. But she’s been the one that’s done most of the live videos”

Cotnam says, “Part of the reason we wanted to do the live videos with the songs and stories was to potentially give any parents working at home to just have a couple of minutes to themselves. Being with 24 pre-schoolers, we know how busy it can be and we know they aren’t used to having their kids home all the time when they are trying to get their work done.”

Daycare can be a big learning curve for both the parents and the children, and it can take time to build up that trust between the child and the educators once the parents have left them in their care.

“One of our biggest goals as soon as the child comes into the centre is build trust with them,” says Cotnam. “We didn’t want to lose that over this time and honestly, these videos were just as much for them as it was for us. When we have a child, who comes into our program, they almost become one of our own children and we care about them and love them so much.”

She adds, “We just wanted to see them and know that they were ok.”

Raycraft says, “also to check up on the families and make sure that no one was being overwhelmed.”

There has been a shift in the public’s awareness over the last three months as to how essential these childcare providers are to make the economic engine turn.

“It’s been really great to hear that positivity around our work,” says Cotnam. “There have been many labels that we usually get and one of them is a babysitter. That word is hurtful because it shows that people don’t understand that we have gone to school to learn about child development and we are considered a professional. So, to now hear comments that people are recognizing what we do day to day, it's really meaningful to us.”

Desjardine says, “it's great to know that people are recognizing the need for childcare providers and to know the economy can’t really reopen without us there because parents are now struggling to find care for their children and a lot of families don’t want to just send their kids anywhere.”   

One of the big needs of this industry is better provincial funding.

“Funding to provide universal childcare for the families we support and getting a professional wage,” says Cotnam.

“We perform a lot of the same tasks and job criteria as a teacher and we get half the pay.”

“We’re also sometimes doing extra tasks,” says Raycraft. “Not to devalue teachers at all, we know how hard they work, but we’re also providing a curriculum and nurturing and providing those early year tasks like changing diapers and making sure each child is fed and those kinds of things.”  

And if they are going to re-open sometime soon, they say with the current protocols, it means they would need additional people to make sure everything could run the way it is supposed to.

“Those extra bodies would help with the cleaning and the screen checking,” says Desjardine.

She has been called upon to work at one of the emergency-child care centres in the city and she adds, “we no longer have any connection with the families because we are not able to physically see them. The children are checked at the door by a screener and then asked a list of questions, and then that person brings the child from the parents to the program. Not having that connection is hard as an educator because you like to stay connected and its important that the children see that, and it helps build that trusting relationship.”

Cotnam and Raycraft have not worked since daycare services were shut down by the province and they say that has been a very difficult experience to go through both financially and emotionally.

“There is a lot of anxiety for sure,” says Raycraft. “Just waiting to hear about if we are going back or not, it can be really hard.”

“As a mom with kids at a different daycare than mine and trying to plan care for them, that right there causes a lot of anxiety,” says Cotnam. “I’m also nervous for our kids because they have spent so much time at home with their parents and I want to make sure that we are going to be there to support them not just physically but emotionally as well. I’m nervous to see how it's all going to impact them once they come back.”

Having that inherent quality to care about each individual child is a necessity for anyone going into this line of work.

“We tell every single one of our placements students that if they are in this for the money, they have picked the wrong career,” says Cotnam.

“The main reason you pick this career is because you want to be there for the children. You have a passion about child development and a passion for making a difference in a child’s life.”

“It is a rewarding career,” says Desjardine. “Seeing the children learn and grow and the connections you will have with them are the things I love the most about doing this.”

“It can be a challenge and testing at times though,” says Raycraft. “Especially when you are with kids all day and then go home to your own kids, but this also lets you see the bigger picture. You see so many different characteristics of different kids and the dynamic ways you must address all their concerns. I think a lot of the confidence I had in becoming a new mom was drawn from working in this field.”

“This has also taught me not to sweat the small stuff,” says Cotnam.

“When you work with a bunch of toddlers or preschoolers, you just learn to roll with the punches and go with the flow. You learn what’s really important and what you can just let slide. If your house is messy, oh well! The time you spend with your kids is more important than anything else and that’s the mentality we take into our programs. The most important thing is to make sure the children are happy and healthy.”

“It gives a whole new meaning to ‘don’t cry over spilt milk,’” says Desjardine.                                                                                                

Not only are these tree trying to stay in touch virtually with the kids, they also spent a day driving to each child’s home, with permission, to hand-deliver an arts and crafts package while staying on the street and allowing the kids to say hi from their windows or front porches.

That’s the kind of generosity and caring these three and many childcare providers have.

“We were so excited as educators to be able to see the kids on that day,” says Desjardine. “To see how happy and healthy they were and the excitement and connection we could still have with them from that distance was really worthwhile.”

“We’re so thankful for the support we’ve gotten from the families during this time,” says Cotnam. “If it wasn’t for them, we would not be able to do what we have been doing as educators and just want to support them as best as we can.”

“They are the reasons that we do the things we do, and we appreciate the support from them and everyone in the community that has reached out.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at matthew.sookram@rci.rogers.com