Tonya Williams, head of Child Care and Early Childhood Education for the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), is sending her 2-year-old grandson back to child care this week. Like all parents and grandparents, she's concerned with the health of her family. But through her position, she knows how closely DHS works with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) on all health-related issues.

We asked her a few questions to help parents as they decide what’s best for their families, especially as many summer programs are set to open their doors early next month. 

LRF: Is it safe to send kids back to daycare?

Williams made a point to say that she’s very confident in Dr. Smith, the Director and State Health Officer for ADH. She firmly believes that Dr. Smith and his team would close early childhood education centers if they felt there was too much risk involved for staff or students. About 1,000 Arkansas daycare centers have remained open through the pandemic, and up to this point there have not been any reported COVID-19 cases among students or staff. 

LRF: Do I need to give up my child’s spot for the children of essential workers?

Williams said that as a state we’re within 170 facilities of where we would be normally. Most closures at this point are seasonal. 

LRF: If my facility remains closed, what should I look for in a new program?

Williams’ top recommendation for parents is to look for programs licensed by DHS. Even without a pandemic, these centers must follow minimal licensing and communicable disease regulations — including hand washing and sanitizing. That’s why many day care centers have been able to remain open.  

If you are still looking for childcare, start here to find the latest list of licensed centers that are open in your community. 

LRF: What questions should I ask about my center’s COVID-19 guidelines?

Williams said don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions! Child care centers should be able to tell you their new COVID-19 guidelines. Here are a few questions to get the conversion started: 

1. What will your screening process for students be?

What to look for: Be sure their screening process includes temperature checks of all students and a list of routine questions about any contact with a confirmed case and recent travel. 

2. How will the drop off and pick up processes work now?

What to look for: Make sure that your center has put guidelines in place to minimize the amount of people in the building. 

3. How are you adjusting class sizes? 

Williams said that DHS ratios for younger children naturally lends itself to COVID-19 recommended group sizes. But beyond ratios, it’s important to know how your school will be creatively spreading out classes for older kids. 

What to look for: Creative solutions like staggered recess and playtime, small group instruction and minimal use of common spaces should be in your center’s plan. 

4. Are you implementing any other social distancing strategies?

What to look for: Confirm that mask guidelines will be followed, including masks for adults and no masks for children under two.

5. How will you handle a positive case on site? 

What to look for: Make sure they have a clear isolation, communication and sanitation plan. 

LRF: What can parents do to partner with their early childhood educators? 

Arkansas child care providers have a virtual meeting every Tuesday with Williams’ team at DHS. She’s noticed many schools are struggling to find the cleaning supplies and antibacterial gel to help them meet their updated COVID-19 guidelines. With that in mind, you could certainly reach out to your school and see if they need help gathering those items as well as other hard-to-get supplies like paper towels or toilet paper. 

Parents also need to respect their center’s updated guidelines for drop off, and keep students home for any fevers over 100.4. 

Williams encouraged other ways to build trust and relationship with your early childhood educators like offering to bring meals or to make masks for teachers. Just start by asking “what can I do to help?”