Q & A with Lori Schakow

Parents may have problems finding child care this semester, says executive director of Child Care Solutions, Inc.

By Mary Beth Roach

As families throughout the area grapple with their various school districts’ reopening plans this fall, child care is a major concern.

The statistics, provided by Child Care Solutions Inc., help to illustrate the challenge. There are 70,700 children in Onondaga County. The registered day care programs in the county currently have the capacity to serve 8,000 children. But there are only about 1,400 slots — or 17% of that total — left that are vacant. .

In Good Health recently interviewed Lori Schakow, the organization’s executive director.

Q: Child care is critical right now. How is your agency handling this? What can your agency do to help parents and providers through all this uncertainty?

A. I’ll start with providers. We have been trying to push out information in easily-digestible format. We’re gathering all of the information that’s coming in. Sometimes it changes minute by minute from [Onondaga County] Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, [the State] Office of Children and Family Services. We’re trying to consolidate that and push it out to providers with recommendations. We put together an entire guide of how to either revamp those programs that remained open throughout the entire pandemic, or how to reopen safely for those programs that temporarily closed. That guide is available on our website — www.childcaresolutionscny.org.

Q. What are the suggestions for parents?

A. We have been continuing to provide the information and referrals that we have always done. The difference now is that in the past, it was virtually impossible, with all of the programs open, for us to continue an open capacity list because it changes day by day. But we have made what I would say Herculean efforts to do that during COVID-19. We’ve been trying to call providers every day to say ‘How many openings do you have?’ Then we only refer to the parents to those programs that have told us they have openings. In the past, we would just send them the providers in their neighborhood that meet the specific family’s needs. Now we’re only saying these are the smaller number of programs in your area that meet your family’s needs that have openings.

Q. Does it mean it may be hard for families to find child care for their kids?

A. The challenge lately has been that the numbers of openings are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. Parents that wait until the last minute are probably not going to have a lot of options available to them.

Q: What are some other suggestions you might offer parents?

A: Call early to get referrals; put their name on waiting lists in as many places as possible. Child care, even if they’re full today, that could change tomorrow. In terms of calling the providers, remember that they’re caring for children, predominantly during the day. So, if they’re calling during the day, they probably are not going to get a response. Leave a message. It’s better if you call early evening.

Q: Give us some background on the Child Care Solutions — when was it founded and what was the premise behind it?

A: It started in 1973 as a grassroots effort between local child care center directors in an effort to connect parents that were looking for care to the child care centers who were looking for children to enroll in their programs. They incorporated in 1975 serving Onondaga County as a child care resource and referral agency, so again connecting parents to child care resources in their community. We expanded in 2009 to also serving Cayuga County. We started as a resource and referral agency, but since 1975 our services continue to grow exponentially.

Q: How big is your service area?

A: We serve all of Onondaga and Cayuga counties. We’re also the lead agency for an infant-toddler regional program. We serve the entire Central New York region, all the way from St. Lawrence County, on the Canadian border, to Broome County, on the Pennsylvania border. Fourteen counties in between.

Q: Describe some of the services that Child Care Solutions offers.

A: Information and referrals to parents who are looking for child care. As part of that information and referral, we talk to them about what high-quality care looks like, what kinds of questions they should be asking in interviews and also connecting them with financial resources to help them pay for care. Our second biggest program is our registration program. We assist individuals interested in opening a daycare business in their home to meet the New York state child care regulations and also individuals that are looking to open a school-aged program. Typically, the school-aged programs need to be in a setting other a residence.

Q: Anything else?

A. We also provide professional development to the child care providers, everything from the child development associates program to health and safety training, first aid, CPR, all of the required training topics that child care providers need. We also sponsor the child and adult care food program, which is basically for child care providers, designed to ensure children are getting healthy snacks and meals while they’re in day care.

Q: How many employees do you have?

A: We currently have 37, but we have two open positions that we’re probably not going to fill right now during the pandemic.

Editor’s note: For those parents facing child care problems, visit www.childcaresolutionscny.org or call 315-446-1220 ext. 303.