Challenge for emergency daycares as businesses reopen

Jun 1, 2020

As Dartmouth businesses slowly start to reopen their doors, the town’s daycare facilities may not have the capacity to care for children whose parents are finally getting back to work.

Child care provider Sally Belanger of Sal’s Pals on Reed Road, who was providing emergency daycare services to essential workers during the pandemic, said that she is getting an average of five to seven calls a day for kids that she simply can’t fit in.

“It’s draining,” she said. “Governor Baker said only 35 percent of us are being utilized. I find that hard to believe, because I’m full every day.”

But Belanger is also worried that things may get worse before they get better. Governor Baker is expected to make an announcement in the next few days about reopening the state’s daycares, currently set for June 29. Belanger said she worries that may cut the ratio of children to care providers for those that had been open during the pandemic.

“If tomorrow he announces ratios are cut, I don’t know what we’re gonna do,” said Belanger, who said she would have to drop some children from her program. “What are we gonna tell the parents, ‘Eenie meenie miney mo?’”

And despite her full schedule, money is also a problem. As an emergency daycare, Belanger said, she is not allowed to charge parents for her services. Instead, the state pays — but Belanger noted that it’s about half what she would normally make.

“I am happy to help the parents that obviously need it,” she said, adding that many families may still be paying for their regular daycare, even while not using their services. 

“Most of the parents don’t know it’s free [for essential workers],” she said. “It’s a relief to them when they find out.”

Parents can give donations to their emergency daycares — “Guess I’ll put my tip jar outside,” Belanger laughed — but she said that staying open during the pandemic hasn’t been a benefit to her financially.  

“I don't know if I would do it again,” she said. “I’d honestly have to really think about it.”

“It’s really about the kids,” Belanger noted. “In the two months I’ve had them, I’ve really grown attached to them.”

“It kind of sucks getting just half your income,” she added. “You just try to put that behind you and look at it like you’re helping these parents.”