As the lockdown restrictions implemented by the Government for COVID-19 are being incrementally eased and people are required to head back to work, there is now increased worry and anxiety among parents, especially single parents who have no alternative support for their children, who will be out of school until September.
The situation may become grave for some with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus yet to finalise and approve the pandemic leave which she proposed in March.
In a WhatsApp response to Guardian Media’s question on its approval status last week, Baptiste-Primus wrote, “The Cabinet has not yet approved the workplace guidelines, which are still engaging the attention of the Finance and General Purpose Committee. As a consequence, I am not in a position to pronounce on this most important matter.”
The reality for some parents, therefore, is that they do not know how they will take care of their children until September once the country is fully reopened. Some parents shared their challenges with Guardian Media via a social media poll we conducted.
One mother said as an essential worker she had been experiencing uneasiness since schools were closed in March.
“My mother is not well and she has some age too and I cannot stay home. Right now she has been looking after my two children who are minors since their schools closed. I worry a lot while I am at work because what if something happens to her?” the mother, who did not want to be identified, asked.
Another single parent said she has had no other choice but to leave her children, who are minors, at home alone until she gets home from work.
Addressing her unique situation meanwhile, Lyra Thompson-Hollingsworth said, “I have some support from my mother but three children under ten (two autistic) is a bit of a handful for a senior citizen.”
Some parents also say with the July/August vacation around the corner, there will be increasing tension due to the unavailability of childcare facilities which may still be closed or have less space due to physical distancing protocols they will have to implement for COVID-19.
But the lengthy school closure does not only have an adverse effect on parents.
Pre-school and daycare owners, as well as those who provide transportation for school children for a living, will also have to make drastic changes. Some of them told Guardian Media they will take another financial hit to make these changes and some are now even forced to look to other means of revenue or make career changes.
Daycare owner D Simon-Harrison told Guardian Media, “Although we have been blessed with such swift action on behalf of our nation to mitigate the spread of this pandemic, we have suffered an economic blow like many other small businesses.
“At first, we thought that it would only be a few weeks until school resumed. In stark contrast, we are about two months in with no sign of resuming business as usual. We felt that it was unfair to ask parents to continue to pay any mandatory fees, as some of our counterparts were offering for online-based resources such as the ones that we were already sharing with our Mahogany family.
“As a result, we sent out an official letter stating that we would continue to post videos of storytelling, greetings, nursery rhymes, and even curriculum-based videos using fun manipulatives. We asked only for them to give voluntary donations of either money or groceries for aunties. This request was met with some enthusiasm, as a few parents have been supporting us through cash transfers and two through grocery donations.”
Bittersweet dilemma for some
These stressors can lead to desperate attempts by parents to find resolutions and even parent-child relationship breakdowns, according to psychologist Michele Carter.
Carter suggested a collaborative effort at Government, community and workplace levels to help alleviate some of the problems being experienced. She said other than psychological aid, immediate physical help for parents in this situation was paramount.
She believes it will take the Ministries of Social Development and Family Services, Community Development, Culture and the Arts and Finance to come together with a more practical action plan that would address the issues spot on.
She said from a Government perspective, there should be development and implementation of psychosocial policy guidelines for employers and employee assistance programme (EAP) services as part of employees’ benefits.
At the workplace level, Carter said she once awareness has been raised, employers can seek to develop policies and guidelines to assist employees by adjusting work hours, providing EAP assistance and where possible, allow for work from home.
Social worker, counsellor and part-time parenting educator with Families In Action, Alsoona Boswell-Jackson, meanwhile said it was a bittersweet dilemma for parents during this time, particularly single parents.
She said while on one hand there might be a feeling of elation at going back to work to return to a semblance of economic stability and provide for their family, on the other, there is the fear and anxiety of having no immediate familial or social support for their children.
“As a result, some parents are forced to leave their children with neighbours and friends, where there is a possibility of exposure to child maltreatment in its various forms — physical, sexual and psychological. Additionally, there is also the risk of the child contracting the coronavirus due to other persons visiting the location the child is at and improper hygiene practices,” Boswell-Jackson argued.
In addition, Boswell-Jackson said due to desperation of having been out of work for weeks and the overpowering need to fulfil the roles of providing and nurturing associated with parenting, some parents would be now forced to take a frightening chance to leave children home alone without supervision, convincing themselves it’s only for a short time and “the end justified the means.”
“Such disheartening situations faced by parents who do not have alternative care for their children overshadows the elation of being back out to earn an honest dollar with debilitating fears,” Boswell-Jackson said.
“Fears of exposing themselves to the virus and taking it home to their children, fears of becoming sick and not being able to provide, fears of placing their children’s lives in danger by either abuse or being home alone, fear of losing the said job because of constantly having to address concerns at home while at work or worst yet, fear of dying and leaving their children.”
Asked what she believed could be done at a national level, Boswell-Jackson said the sad reality was that there was very little the Government could tangibly do to ease the situation parents face with child care services at this time, given the fact that physical distancing and crowd limit restrictions means less children can be accommodated in one place at any given time.
At a community level, she contended while there might be a want to maintain the “village raising the child” philosophy, it would be a challenging feat during this season of uncertainty and self-preservation which COVID-19 has brought on.
“The fact is the same way the parent has concerns about the child contracting COVID-19 from the location they are sent to, the same way the persons of that location have concerns about contracting the virus from the child being back and forth from being with you, because they don’t know who you would have been in contact with during your workday,” Boswell-Jackson argued.
“The domino effect is that the social glue that has been holding communities together is now quickly losing its bonding properties due to the social fallouts of COVID-19.”
How to care for children during pandemic
Search your support pool: Never leave minors alone at home for even one minute. It is against the law and you can be arrested for such. Search your pool of family members and/or friends and you must find someone that you are comfortable with to leave your children. It may even mean the person coming to your home where you and your children might be a little more comfortable and you will have more control of sanitisation practices and visitor control.
Communicate: Talk to your children about what is happening and be open and age-appropriate as you explain your work schedule and where they may have to stay.
Discuss good touch and bad touch: Have conversations with them as they tell you all that they did during the day. Use this opportunity to look for changes in moods, tone and expressions. If you can, provide a simple cellphone for easy access to your children, or have the phone number of the caregiver on speed dial. Check-in at least twice with them during your absence.
Set ground rules: If an older sibling is taking care of the younger ones in your absence, try to leave meals already prepared so as to minimise the use of the stove. Leave emergency numbers visible on the walls, refrigerator, or speed dial on at least one mobile device. Try to check in at home at intervals convenient to your work schedule or have someone you know and trust check-in for you. Also, leave a phone contact where you can be reached.
Have a family emergency escape plan: Practice it with the children. Let them be aware of where keys are and practice putting keys in one place so that it will become a habit. —Alsoona Boswell-Jackson (Social Worker)