Friday, August 28, 2020

How To Write Pandemic Policies For Your Business

I've spent soooo many hours writing policies for daycare. It's exhausting. Sometimes I feel as though I'm overthinking everything; then the next minute I feel I'm not doing enough. Can this pandemic just be over with already??!
t's dangerous to do, but I'm going to assume if you're a daycare provider of any kind, you likely (and should) have a policy/guidelines/contract for your daycare families. In my policies and procedures, I have what happens in case of an emergency, but I had never once thought about a pandemic section in my daycare policies prior to March. Obviously, as soon as Covid19 became a thing, it was clear to me that my regular sick policies didn't even touch what was needed for right now.

While policies aren't my favorite thing to deal with or make sure they're enforced, and I'm sure parents often feel the same way, they are important for running a smooth business. In the case of a pandemic, policies are intregal in keeping kids, their families, and anyone they come into contact with safe. The enormity of writing and researching new policies weighed on me for weeks this summer. With school beginning, I definitely had to rework my pandemic policies that I had set into place for summer care.

I've had to write three sets of pandemic policies in the last 5 months. Each time I had thoughts of "what the hell do I do??" I fretted, I cried out of frustration and the lack of guidance, I drank (a lot) to make researching more fun, I had to re-do a lot of the work I did while drinking (while upfront, I don't think the line "use your common sense on this parents" would be appreciated in a contract). It's been a lot and taken up much of my time since March.

Apparently I look like I have my shit together (and sometimes I actually DO!) because I've helped several providers in my area write their policies and I've sent my pandemic policies out to other daycares and businesses to help them write theirs. As I sat one night on a phone call with a friend, explaining my policies so she could ask me questions about their daycare's policies in place, I realized this sh*t needs to be shared. Fellow daycare providers, parents with questions, businesses and especially any business that deals with children, should be sharing and helping each other out right now. Instead, I'm finding many of us feel alone and wondering if we're doing the right thing. With very little guidance from leadership, I've found myself making decisions I never dreamed I'd be faced with and that alone is all the feelings.

One thing to remember about daycares is that while we own our business, we are still controlled (or have rules that must be followed put in place) by our states, counties, cities, health department, and human services (DHS in our area). That means we have a whole lot of departments we need to check with before we can even open our doors and that's no different in a pandemic. Actually, that's more important in a pandemic. So, while I will share with you how to go about writing your own, above all else, you need to also listen and implement policies in place by your local (and even federal) agencies, departments, and governments.

After researching all guidelines and requirements put in place in your state, you're ready to write! But where to begin? I began with the changes we would be making in our household (this is important since I'm an in-home daycare).

  • Are you social distancing? Are you allowing anyone into your home? These are all things that should be touched upon, as most daycares are closed off. The only people in or out are staff (or in our case, our family) and daycare children. We have closed our house to all visitors, even in the off hours. Do you have your own children and if so, are they going to school? Are they involved in activities? How are you handling when your child(ren) comes home at the end of the school day, with possible germs?
  • What will your cleaning procedures be? Will you amp up your cleaning, use different products than previously used, spraying children's shoes/coats after they're removed? Will you keep cleaning procedures the same? Will you require more handwashing? Will you have hand sanitizer on hand for kids? Are you requiring masks? All of this should be thought about and considered before writing your policies. Think about what is actually doable for you, your family, and your business. If you want to clean more, how are you going to implement this? Do you have the extra time to give to this? Look at what is feasible both time and monetary wise.
  • Will you be taking temperatures at the door or will that fall on parents? What will you require of parents and children upon arrival as drop offs and pick ups will have changed? Parents should no longer be allowed inside daycares/classrooms. This is more important than I initially thought. When I first heard of centers in our area implementing this policy, I was heartbroken. So much of what I love about my daycare families is talking to parents at the beginning and end of the day. I am given insight into their lives, what is happening with the child(ren) when they're not at daycare; that personal level really changes when parents cannot be a part of daycare. However, I get how it really keeps the germs that enter daycare down. It is not my favorite policy (and I honestly can't wait until I can do away with it), but for now, it does provide a sense of security in keeping everyone healthy.
  • Do you need to remove toys or furniture? Stuffed animals, dress up clothes, cloth dolls, furniture that isn't plastic or wooden aren't to be used right now due to their ability to hold bacteria (and keep it present). If you aren't (or can't) remove such items, how do you plan on cleaning them thoroughly? You may think this one is no big deal, however, it was pointed out to me, that if there happens to be an outbreak (or your daycare becomes a hot spot) your Department of Health and Human Services will want to know what precautions your daycare business was taking. You will need to be able to tell them and show them what was or wasn't being done. If everyone at your daycare is sick, this will affect when your business will be allowed to re-open. Example of this: An outbreak happens at my daycare (hypothetically) and a few children and their family tests positive for Covid. Likely, a worker from one, both, or more departments will be in touch and my daycare will be required to close. The length of time will depend on what policies I've have implemented. Since I deep clean daily, kids don't have access to couches, all nap mats and cribs are wiped down and cleaned after each use, no blankets or stuffed animals are used, etc., I will likely be able to stay open. If it's deemed I was doing nothing, they can force me to close, tell me to implement policies, come under review, and complete a health inspection before I'm able to re-open my doors. This is a deal breaker for me, as it's a matter of if I'm closed for a day or two vs. 14+ days (30 - 60 days would be more likely)
  • Go over your current sick policies. Update as needed. Since there isn't clear and concise data on what is best, please implement policies that reflect what you're comfortable with. Make sure you enforce all sick policies. If you need further assistance with this, I recommend you contact your doctor or local pediatrician to determine what is recommended for your area and how they are treating positive Covid19 cases in your area.
  • Will you allow before and after school care? How will you handle a child (or children) going from one group of kids to the next? If you have kids arrive mid-day from school, what precautions will your daycare be taking? Will the child need to change his or her clothes? Wear a mask? 
  • Are you taking virtual or homeschool learners? If so, how will you be sure they are doing their work? Do you have a safe and quiet space for them? Will you be charging an additional fee for this? 
  • Most importantly, come up with a plan if you, a member of your household, or daycare children (and their families) have any symptoms or test positive for Covid19. Will parents need to pay if you're forced to close? Will you take partial payments? Will you use vacation or sick days? How long will you close? How long will sick children need to be out of childcare?

This is a whirlwind time and all new territory for everyone. It has not been easy taking over a leadership role, when it's not one I wanted in the first place (like, hello, if I wanted to be thinking about and writing policies regarding public health, I wouldn't be a daycare provider), however it has been eye opening to find how many people are without guidance and help. If you would like to take a look at my daycare's policies and what I included, you can find a link below. 

Daycare Pandemic Policies Fall 2020

* please be aware, that my pandemic policies are in addition to my regular policies and procedures (more of an addendum). Many of my regular policies and procedures are still in place (including payment, which the pandemic doesn't change). I also reserve the right (as my families know) to change any policy at any time that can be effective immediately, in regards to the Covid19 pandemic. This was an important piece for me when writing these, as information and how federal and local officials are handling the pandemic is constantly changing.