As I write today, all the daycares which were either run by the employer on site or near site in India are closed. With the country in lockdown the parents have to take care of the children at home. On the bright side they get to be closer to them and ensure they are safe and healthy. But the challenge is for the parents who are working from home as well amid this crisis. Secondly, it is also challenging for the parents who are either in healthcare or other essential services and at the frontline, still working while the entire country is under lockdown.
Were the employers and the child care facilities across the country ready for a challenge like this?
We do have mandatory standards to comply in child care centres in India. The Ministry of Women and Child Development came up with the guidelines in 2018 after consultation with experts in the area. These National Minimum Guidelines for Setting Up and Running Crèches under the Maternity Benefit Act 2017’ provides a set of standards which needs to be followed for programs for children between six months and six years. It does talk about having child safety norms and display it on boards for parents. The guidelines also mandate centres to have an evacuation plan in place, water sprinklers and fire extinguishers. So early childhood centres can be prepared to face emergencies. According to UNICEF, emergencies are situations that threaten the lives and wellbeing of a population, and that needs extraordinary efforts to ensure care, protection and survival of children. Child care centres can serve an important role in the emergency situation especially for children of front line workers, medical staff and government employees such as police officers who are out in the field and don’t have family to take care of children. However, in our country our teachers, child care workers and paraprofessionals are not trained for emergency group care.
But this time of crisis has created an opportunity. We have to use this situation to turn that around and create platforms for vulnerable children and families to help them better deal with adversity.
We know working parents are really struggling to balance child care, work from home and household chores. The concerns are even more for single parents or with parents who have children with special needs as they may require more time with their children. But employees don’t have to do it alone. Even in this situation employers can support child care needs of the employees in many ways.
Here’s how employers can help:
Serve and Return
They can create online resources on areas such as playful parenting and encourage parents to use what is called “Serve and Return” in developmental science. According to the Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University, Serve and return are child-adult relationships that are responsive and attentive with lots of back and forth interactions which builds a strong foundation in a child’s brain for all future learning and development.
Innovative digital resources
Employers can also create innovative online newsletters, resources and games for parents to use. The organisations can also provide online platforms where working parents can share their concerns with each other. We can also provide platforms for children to interact with each other, take some support from teachers and child care professionals, and ask them to beonline.
Equal support at home
One very important way of engaging parents is to encourage both women and male employees to be equal carers and support their spouses in taking care of children. It is said that it takes a village to bring up children but in times like these when the village is disrupted, it is the community and more so the employer that may need to extend some extra support. Together is how we all come out of this situation unharmed and perhaps better prepared for the next challenge.
With innovation, inclusion and shared action one can support families, working parents during COVID -19.