THE Ministry of Human Services and Social Security is moving rapidly to be able to provide daycare services for the children of hundreds of Guyana’s essential and frontline workers.Of the 240 properly licensed daycare facilities, some 124 centres have benefitted from the requisite training to be able to execute their functions in accordance with the country’s COVID-19 guidelines.“They would have been worked with and given $50,000 to get themselves ready, so that the persons who are accessing this subsidy can place their children there,” subject Minister, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, speaking on the sidelines of an event on Thursday last. She noted that the initiative also falls in line with the Ministry’s anti-violence efforts.
“We know that these workers have issues with where to leave their children safely…if you think of violence too, it is also looking at things like child abuse and maintaining the safety of children,” Dr. Persaud said. She added that facility operators will also be tested for the deadly COVID-19, and would have to be cleared before the centres are opened for operations. The assistance programme, in its first phase, is intended to benefit healthcare workers, police officers, prison officers, fire service officers, security officers and army officers, with children who are below the age of seven. Director of Social Services, Wentworth Tanner noted that several preventative and responsive procedures have also been put in place. “Even if a child gets sick while at the centre, there are mechanisms in place to be able to address situations like that,” Tanner noted.
He said that while there are in excess of 240 daycare centres across the country, only 240 are properly licensed compliant with childcare guidelines set out by the Ministry, even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. “We plan to train all of the 240 licensed daycare centres,” Tanner emphasized. Minister Persaud specified that the ministry will be compensating the daycare entities directly, so once operational, frontline and essential workers in both the public and private sectors can benefit from the free services. Dr Persaud, in her budget presentation had specified that $22M would be budgeted for the provision of free childcare services for the children of these critical workers. These monies represent a fraction of the $150M budgeted to address the needs of frontline workers all across Guyana. In addition to forms being sent to employers, these can also be accessed via the ministry’s website, as well as all of its locations across the country. It was explained that once the centres become operational, the programme will undergo constant review so as to facilitate expansions and improvements at all levels.
EVICTION AND DEPRESSION
Joyce Sullivan is the owner and administrator of Buttercup Daycare and Playgroup, one of the many daycare facilities that have been closed since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seven years ago, she resigned from her well-paying supervisory position at an international money transfer company to establish her own daycare. “I had my daughter at the time and as single mother, I found it difficult to find good places for her to stay while I’m at work. I imagine there were other parents who felt the same, so I decided to leave my job and start a business,” Sullivan related.
She said that after seven years of running a successful business, COVID-19 struck and ruined it all. Sullivan was renting a William Street, Kitty property for her daycare, and when COVID-19 struck, she was forced to close. She explained that even though there were options to do online classes with her children, the pandemic had taken its toll on her mental health. “I was not well. I started to show signs of depression, so I didn’t want to engage with the children. I opted out of the Zoom classes,” Sullivan told this newspaper.The Ministry’s decision had come as a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
“They had visited and done a COVID-19 readiness assessment, and I was expecting a response very soon,” Sullivan noted. Before a favourable response could come, however, Sullivan was asked to remove her daycare equipment and furniture from the Kitty premises. After seven months of receiving no rent, the landlord finally caved and asked Sullivan to move.She had been evicted; a single mother with no alternative income. Sullivan said that she and her landlord had always shared good relations, and that he was even kind enough to have waivered her rent for many months after the pandemic hit. “It was very hard, but I don’t blame him, because that $150,000 rent was also his source of income,” Sullivan empathised. “Even the three staff that I had working with me had become jobless,” she added.
Sullivan now has to search for a new building to house her daycare business. “This is another challenge, because even if I find a place now, it takes about three months for me to receive the necessary approvals to reopen. Added to that, my daycare licence is set to be expired in February, and to reapply is a hectic process,” Sullivan posited. She added, “It would be a very good thing if the Ministry considered issuing licence that are valid for two-three years, because renewing annually is difficult.” Sullivan believes that the extended licence would not cause any hiccups, since the Ministry usually does comprehensive monthly monitoring and inspection.
“You have the fire service would come, the Health Ministry, the Childcare and Protection Agency…is a lot of inspection,” Sullivan posited. Due to the pandemic, Sullivan is now preparing to start afresh. She is in search of a new location, and is hopeful to still be part of the group of agencies that will be approved to care for the children of essential workers.