EASTHAM — With their facilities closed in the wake of the pandemic, some child care providers are still working to support their clients. Case in point: Cindy Horgan, executive director of Cape Cod Children’s Place, who was delivering diapers last week when she spoke to the Independent.
“Our organization is unique in a couple of ways,” said Horgan. “There’s another whole side to us — family support work. We’re boots on the ground with families. That part of our work is continuing.”
The state has set up an emergency child care network (the closest location to the Outer Cape is Brewster), but access is limited to “vulnerable children and the children of families designated as Covid-19 essential workforces,” with an emphasis on health care, human services, public safety, and first responders, according to the Mass. Dept. of Early Education and Care. “Parents and guardians working from home are not a priority.”
“It was a very hard decision to close our early education program,” Horgan said. “I was so concerned about that workforce” that did not qualify as emergency services.
Horgan has also been doing daily video postings, available on the Cape Cod Children’s Place Facebook page, in which she counsels parents trying to cope with the new order.
“I think reassurance is a big piece of it,” she said. Horgan tries to dismiss parents’ fears that their child is not doing enough, that “their brain will just shrivel up and their intellect will go away. They’re going to be OK.” For young children, Horgan said, “their work is play. If they’re choosing to go build towers, it’s actually engineering, it’s actually math, it’s actually brilliant.”
In her videos, Horgan shares her experience as a professional and mother of five now-adult children. “I was really fortunate: my husband worked in the day, and I worked at night, so I was never scrambling,” Horgan said. “There are challenges parents have today that I never had to deal with.”
In the first video posted, Horgan spoke to “juggling the responsibilities of working from home and home schooling.” What’s really important, she said, is to recognize your limits. “If you have a job that requires you to be online for a couple of hours for a conference, and you put your kids in front of a movie, guess what? You’re doing the right thing for your family.”
Answering children’s questions about the pandemic can be difficult. “The best answer is, ‘I’m so glad you asked me,’ ” Horgan said. “If a seven-year-old says, ‘We’re all going to get sick and die,’ validate that they asked you, then say, ‘We’ve been paying very close attention to what the government is telling us. We all wash our hands and practice safe distancing from our neighbors. We’re doing everything we can to stay healthy.” Children “need to know we are in charge right now, even though we may feel really scared and not in charge,” Horgan said. “They’re taking their emotional thermometer from us all the time.”
Speaking of emotions, “People are still going to lose their patience, and children will still have tantrums,” Horgan added. “I can’t say enough for practicing self-care. If you go into that bathroom and take some moments for yourself, you’re being a good caretaker.” And she suggests using reflective language. “If a child is really angry because you couldn’t take them to play with friends, and you want to say, ‘I’m doing my job,’ ” say instead, “ ‘Wow, you’re really mad I couldn’t take you to your friend’s house.’ ”
For parents and children, the open-ended nature of the pandemic can be wearying. But if we focus on when the stay-at-home order might be lifted, Horgan said, “We’re going to miss the trip.” Be present in the moment. “There are going to be a lot of gifts that present themselves — our experiences within our family, with our children, with ourselves.”