Child Care Professionals Demand Action: An Interview With Phyllis Johnson
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
COVID-19 coronavirus has upended the daily lives of millions of individuals across the United States. Although most K-12 schools have been ordered to close, child care programs find themselves in a gray area. Some child care programs have been classified as essential and critical, others have been ordered to close, some are receiving grants and incentives to stay open, and many more are re-opening to serve the children of essential workers.
This lack of clear direction has led many child care professionals to call on their local politicians to take action and support the early childhood community. I had the opportunity to speak to Phyllis Johnson, one of the many early childhood professionals demanding action.
Phyllis Johnson is the owner of Tots Round the Clock Child Care Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina, a 24-hour daycare center. Johnson has been involved in early childhood since 1989, and she is considered a pioneer in the early childhood community. Her distinguished resume includes serving as a board member of Smart Start, an effort that requires teachers to get the education needed to be successful in a child care setting. She also worked at Forsyth County Public Library as a reference and research librarian, a high school language arts teacher, and a school media coordinator.
Johnson believes that the early childhood community deserves more respect. She says, “There is no consideration for workers in child care. The administrators want me to feel good about being a first responder, but they are unwilling to provide the necessities my program needs to survive.” Not only that, but her employees are afraid to come in because they don’t want to be exposed to the coronavirus. Johnson has taken extra precautions to keep her program safe, including letting parents buzz in but not letting them inside the building, and giving parents hand sanitizer at pick up and drop off. Johnson says, “I have parents that are nurses, mailroom carriers, and mail sorters that all pick up their children in the same uniforms they just wore to work, which creates an exposure issue for my child care program.”
Child care providers are in a truly unique position. Administrators are asking them to jeopardize their health and safety by taking in an influx of new children and increasing enrollment. Johnson says, “Taking in more children could mean even less space for social distancing.” She also said, “The state is allowing unqualified people to work in emergency child care programs without getting Tuberculosis shots, physicals, background checks, CPR training, and none of the proper credentials that are typically required in early childhood.” By relaxing regulations, the states are potentially putting providers, staff, and children at risk.
Many child care programs have been deemed ‘essential’ yet, they have received no additional funds or supplies, and they are running out food, milk, bread, and hand sanitizer. They are also expected to shop at the same stores as the general public, where there is a limited supply of products and shortened hours. It’s not surprising that many child care programs have chosen to close, and many will be unable to re-open if they don’t receive assistance from the government. Phyllis says, “Our leaders need to lead. They need to take care of providers so, when this is over, we will all be better able to resume care in a healthy environment.”
I asked Phyllis the following questions:
Q: What guidance, supplies, and equipment would you need to feel more protected?
A: Gloves, garments to protect clothing, and masks.
Q: When we look at K-12 and Head Start programs – we see them all shut down, yet all workers are still receiving pay. What are your thoughts on the disparities that we are seeing among those that care for children? Is it fair to ask private child care programs to stay open, when government programs are closed?
A: It is not fair. We are working with the same population under the same health care crisis. I don’t know what makes one school setting different and treated differently in regards to operations.
Q: The pandemic has brought to light the need for emergency preparedness planning. What advice do you have for other child care programs?
A: Close. This is more than what we have been trained to do. We are not medical professionals. They're asking us to watch for signs of coronavirus, increase enrollment, practice social distancing, and fill out additional forms and paperwork. And then there’s the stress, and all of us providers having to care for our own families. How effective are we? You're supposed to present your best self to the children, but providers are fearful every day.
Q: What do you think the long term impacts will be of this pandemic in the early childhood sector?
A: We’re going to end up with sick workers, and many folks leaving the profession because of the mistreatment and low morale. I just wish administrators would tell the public how essential child care workers are when there’s no pandemic. Administrators are putting child care workers on the front lines while they sit behind their protective shields, not coming in contact with anyone. It’s too much to bear. The industry needs better representation or it will not survive this pandemic.
As of the evening of March 25, 2020, Phyllis Johnson has closed her child care program due to North Carolina’s shelter-in-place order. We wish her all the best during this pandemic, and we hope Phyllis’ words have made a difference for child care providers across the country. We hear you, we stand with you, and we will continue to fight for you.
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