Child Care and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Last updated May 22, 2020

Section A: Program operations

1. Are child care centers mandated to be closed?

Child care has been deemed an essential function in the Governor’s Executive Order 7H. Therefore, the state is not mandating that child care facilities close.

We have seen many programs and providers close to contribute to social distancing, and due to a reduction in enrollments, staffing concerns, and local Health District guidance. Child Care Centers that remain open must adhere to reduced group size and enhanced health procedures for child care programs per OEC Coronavirus Memo #15.

2. Have there been any changes to group size or ratios for infants, toddlers, or school age children?  

Child care programs must maintain a group size of no more than 10 children per OEC Coronavirus Memo #15. For children under age 3, a group size of 8 is still required per the licensing regulations. There have not been any specific changes to the requirements pertaining to ratios. 

3. Is OEC considering changing the regulations that limit family child care homes to serving 2 infants and toddlers under age 2?  

The agency is currently pursuing changes to the regulations that govern family child care homes. Such proposed changes currently include reducing the restriction of infants and toddlers to children under age 18 months vs. 2 years. Currently these draft regulations are under review and OEC is waiting for approval to have them released for a public hearing. The process for changing regulations takes time, and unfortunately it is not anticipated that these changes will take effect for at least 6 months or more. Given the current state of the COVID-19 emergency, this may further delay the process for approval.

4. What will happen with child care centers as business and organizations across the state begin to reopen?  

OEC has a workgroup dedicated to long-term recovery that’s focused on connecting providers to available resources and ensuring that there will be child care available when businesses and organizations reopen. OEC will continue to work in conjunction with 2-1-1 and the Governor’s Office to address issues related to the supply and demand for child care. 

5. How will the prior policies and regulations be reinstated once the state of emergency has ended?

OEC will collaborate with the Governor’s office and other state agencies in a staged phasing out of all waivers and memos. We recognize the need for notification and time to respond to changing expectations. The health and safety of providers, children, and families will remain a priority as policies and regulations are adjusted in response to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency and recovery. 

6. What are staffing requirements with limited group sizes?  

The following licensing regulations regarding staffing, ratios, and group sizes have not been waived and are still in effect.

  • At least 2 staff members who are 18 years of age or older must be present on the premises when one or more children are present
  • The ratio for preschool is one 1 adult to 10 ten children
  • Infant/toddler classrooms must have no more than 8 children under the age of 3 and must maintain a ratio  of one adult for every 4 infants/toddlers

In order to limit the number of people that individuals are exposed to, programs may want to consider having 2 staff assigned to each group of children on a regular basis.

7. How can we maintain consistent groups, meet staff requirements and provide a full day of care?  What guidance is available regarding shifts, breaks, and substitutes?

The goal of limiting group size is to keep the number of people that each person is interacting with low. The best ways of achieving this goal will vary from program to program. These ideas may be helpful in creating a plan for your program:

  • Stagger start and end times and group children according to the hours of care needed. For example, one classroom may operate from 8 am to 3 pm, while another classroom runs from 10 am to 6 pm.
  • Encourage families to use only the hours of care that they need and to stagger their own schedules when possible to limit their need for childcare outside of the home.  
  • Consider an adjusted schedule in which 2 teachers overlap for a portion of the day and cover each other’s breaks.
  • Have substitutes available in case teachers are sick and consider identifying specific substitutes for classrooms or age groups. Keep in mind that substitutes, like teachers, need to follow all Department of Economic Development Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employees per Executive Order 7BB.
  • Reach out to other open programs for ideas on staffing and scheduling.

8. How can we meet the need for childcare with limited group sizes?

We anticipate a decrease in the demand for childcare due to COVID-19. Communities Collaboratives and/or local early childhood councils are encouraged to consider how they can coordinate supply and demand for care while complying with COVID-19 health and safety requirements. 211 is another resource that can be used to match families to available care in their area.

9. What do we do when local and state guidance conflict?

Programs should defer to the more conservative or stringent guidelines. For example, OEC requires that all childcare programs limit class size to no more than 10 children. But if a local health department has stricter guidance or determines that it is not safe for childcares in that region to be open, then programs must adhere to the local health department’s guidance.

10. What do we do if currently enrolled families have greater need for care than we can provide based on limited group size? How do we decide who to serve?

Making decisions like these are hard. There is no easy answer as this ultimately depends on your program’s structure, funding, capacity and families’ needs for care. It may help to set up a policy.

Program Facilities

11. What are the requirements for physical barriers between groups?

Each group of 10 children must be in a separate space. Spaces may be separated by a full or a half wall. If a program is approved to serve more than 30 children, each group of 10 children needs to be in separate rooms which means that these spaces must be separated by a full wall.

12. Do we need to replace our carpeting with hard floors?

No.  Uncarpeted floors — like any hard surfaces — are ideal because they’re easier to sanitize. But CDC’s Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility contains guidance for cleaning soft surfaces.

13. Can different groups of children use the same bathroom?

Yes. But since programs will be working to keep children from different classrooms apart, providers need to make every effort to have children from different groups use shared bathrooms at different times and to sanitize surfaces between uses.

14. How do we handle use and cleaning of a shared playground?

Individual classrooms (comprised of no more than 10 children) should use the playground at separate times. The CDC states that “the targeted use of disinfectants can be done effectively, efficiently and safely on outdoor hard surfaces and objects frequently touched by multiple people.” We suggest that:

  • Providers disinfect hard surfaces on playgrounds between uses by different groups of children or when bodily secretions get on surfaces
  • Children should wash hands before and after using the playground
  • Hand sanitizer should be available for use if a child sneezes, blows their nose, etc.
  • Programs should have a trash receptacle for disposal of soiled tissues, gloves used during sanitizing, etc.
  • Programs may consider closing off areas or structures that might be hard to clean.

15. Are children allowed to use sandboxes?

Yes. Children may use sandboxes but should wash hands and/or use hand sanitizer before and after playing in the sand. Programs may choose to close or cover sand boxes located on the playground if feasible.

Section B: Child care options for families

1. If my child care provider is now closed, but I still have to work, what do I do with my child?

We understand the concern around care for your child while you continue to work. If working from home and caring for your child is not feasible, please look to a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor who is not in a high-risk health category.

2. If I work for an employer considered “essential” for the purposes of Executive Order 7H and do not have child care, how do I find a facility that is open?

Essential workers who are not able to find care with trusted family members, friends, or neighbors, may call 2-1-1 Child Care at 800-505-1000 to help find open and available spaces near your work or home. 2-1-1 Child Care is constantly surveying programs to know where there are openings for new children.

Please see the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) website for more information on who is considered “essential” for purpose of Executive Order 7H.

3. If I am a first responder or health care worker, how do I find child care?

Healthcare workers and first responders who are not able to find trusted family, friends, or neighbors for child care may call the 2-1-1 dedicated number 860-756-0864 for support. We are working in close collaboration with hospitals to provide child care support to their employees.

4. In the event that my child care facility closes, are families still charged for enrollment?

Programs may continue to charge family fees when a program is closed in accordance with existing program policies and current family fees. Programs need to consider the fiscal needs of their business but may waive family fees or implement a hardship policy due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families that are able to do so are encouraged to continue to pay family fees so that programs can cover ongoing costs (e.g., payroll, monthly building expenses) and are more likely to remain in business and provide care after this emergency has ended.

For families that have a Care4Kids certificate and have had to find another provider due to a program closure, the family fee will be applied to the new alternate provider. See the Care4Kids FAQ for additional information.

Child care for essential workers

5. Is there funding to support child care providers who remain open and serve essential workers during the COVID-19 emergency?

OEC is offering funds — in addition to normal tuition fees — to reward licensed child care programs that provide care to the children of essential workers during the COVID-19 emergency. Learn more about the CTCARES for Child Care Program.  

CT CARES for Hospital Workers (Project 26)

6. What is Project 26?

CTCARES for Hospital Workers — also called Project 26 — is the name for our program that helps hospital staff find child care. OEC facilitated partnerships between currently licensed child care facilities and hospitals to ensure hospital staff have child care close to their work. It is critically important that our healthcare workers have the child care they need so they can take care of the rest of us. These are NOT NEW child care facilities.

7. How can current providers become part of the CTCARES for Hospital Workers Program?

OEC is working with current facilities and provider partners to ensure hospital staff have child care. Some hospitals have existing relationships with providers and we are honoring their relationships as a first step. Programs are then being identified and prioritized by their proximity to the hospital (within a 3-mile radius), their current licensed space available, licensing status (have no pending enforcement actions), and their ability to serve three age groups. We are contacting child care programs that have closed and may be willing to reopen specifically to provide child care for healthcare workers, or currently open programs that can dedicate specific classrooms for this effort.

8. What funding is being used to pay for CTCARES for Hospital Workers?

CT received a generous donation from Dalio Philanthropies to support this effort.

9. How many children and families are going to be served by CTCARES for Hospital Workers?

The model funds up to three classrooms: 1 classroom of no more than 6 infants and toddlers, 1 classroom of no more than 10 preschool-aged children, and 1 classroom of no more than 10 school-aged children. These classrooms are only for the children of hospital staff at this time.

10. How do we know that families who really need care from CTCARES for Hospital Workers are the ones receiving it?

OEC is working very closely with the HR departments at the hospitals. In order to determine the need for child care programming, hospital staff are being directed by their HR department to first make every effort to:

  • Utilize their current child care arrangement.
  • Look to trusted family members, friends, and neighbors for child care.
  • Call 2-1-1 to ask for assistance in finding child care.
    • 2-1-1 has set up a dedicated line for health care workers and first responders: 860.756.0864
    • 2-1-1 is not directing employees to free child care. It is directing them to open spaces in programs near their home or the hospital.

Section C: Business and economic supports for programs and providers

1. If our child care facility closes, can staff apply for unemployment benefits? What if we are an in-home facility?

All providers, regardless of setting, can apply for unemployment benefits consideration. The CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits, and the Department of Labor (DOL) will determine eligibility. 

Note that employers can file a Temporary Shutdown that allows the employer to provide the DOL with a list of staff and necessary detail that expedites processing AND then staff do not have to file weekly claims.  

Everyone should refer to the DOL FAQs which are updated the end of every day for important help.

2. Is there support being offered for struggling child care businesses?

We know that child care providers — like many small businesses in Connecticut — are facing serious economic hardship. The State of Connecticut is dedicated to helping small businesses, and it’s set up a resource page with information about helpful programs, bridge loans, and more. Find help on the state’s COVID-19 business resources page

3. How will my program be impacted if we had to lay off employees and they are collecting unemployment?  

Individual program circumstances vary greatly. It is suggested that you refer to the Department of Labor (DOL) FAQ. There’s a section specific to the Federal Unemployment Stimulus Programs, which contains detail and guidance about the following:

  1.  Federal Unemployment Pandemic Compensation (FPUC) — commonly referred to as the extra $600 per week or “supersizing” weekly benefits beginning April 25, 2020
  2. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) — unemployment benefits expanded to designated individuals not previously eligible (i.e., family child care providers) with applications starting by April 30, 2020
  3. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) — providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits, with a start date to be determined

In addition, you can read frequently asked questions about unemployment insurance for employers.

4. My business is struggling and I was not able to get one of the small business loans. What can I do?

The state’s COVID-19 business resources page is updated regularly to reflect federal and state resources to support small business.

Small businesses can also get help from the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC). To get free counseling, contact WBDC. You can also see a list of potential funding opportunities on their website — along with links to worksheets to help you with key documents required for filing applications.

Many programs will have multiple phases of support. If you were not able to access one opportunity, be prepared for when they reopen and or other opportunities might become available.

Section D: Family fees and program funding

1. Are families still charged fees or tuition when a center is closed or when they keep their child home due to COVID-19? 

Programs may continue to charge family fees in accordance with existing program policies and current family fees when they are closed due to COVID-19. Programs need to consider the fiscal needs of their business but may reduce or waive family fees, or implement a hardship policy, due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families that are able to continue to pay family fees are encouraged to do so to support their program’s ability to cover ongoing costs (e.g., payroll, monthly building expenses), remain in business, and provide care after this emergency has ended. Open dialogue between providers and parents to address fee payments during this emergency is essential. Read additional guidance regarding family fees and some tips for talking about fee policies and agreements.

2. Can you apply for CTCARES for Child Care funding if you serve children of essential workers who do not receive Care 4 Kids?  

The CTCARES for Child Care Program is separate from the Care 4 Kids approval and payment process. Programs serving children of essential workers who do not have a Care 4 Kids certificate may qualify for CTCARES for Child Care funding. Essential workers with children in a program receiving CTCARES for Child Care funding may visit the Care 4 Kids website to determine if they are eligible for Care 4 Kids certificate.

Section E: State-funded programs

1. What is the status of funding for state-funded programs?

Per OEC Memo #8, OEC will continue to pay all state-funded programs and settings (Child Day Care, Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, Even Start, School Readiness, Smart Start, State Head Start Supplement) through the end of the current state fiscal year — June 30, 2020 — at the full monthly allocation as of March 2020, regardless of child attendance or program closure.

2. How should state-funded programs handle monthly reporting?

All state-funded programs should complete monthly reports consistent with current practices. Per Memo #8, funding will be at the full monthly allocation as of March 2020, regardless of child attendance or program closure.

3. Who can state-funded programs enroll and/or serve during the COVID-19 emergency?

State-funded programs can continue to serve currently enrolled families as long as they are:

  • Able to safely remain open
  • In compliance with Memo #15 regarding reduced group size and enhanced health procedures for child care programs during COVID-19

Currently enrolled families may include healthcare workers, first responders, and those still working under the Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) exemptions to Executive Order 7H.

4. What is the status of the Child Day Care contracts for FY 2021?

OEC is actively working to support the continuous operation of state-funded systems. The process of generating Child Day Care contracts for FY 2021 was already underway and is continuing. OEC will be in contact with Child Day Care Contractors with updates regarding FY 2021 contracts as the process continues.

5. What is the status of the School Readiness RFP process for FY 2021?

OEC Coronavirus Memo #17 addresses the School Readiness RFP. This memo also notes that OEC will not be processing FY21 Quality Enhancement Grant applications until further notice. Due to the COVID-19 emergency, the needs of staff, families and children are shifting and OEC recognizes that School Readiness Councils will want to be responsive to these changing needs within their communities. Therefore, OEC is requesting School Readiness Councils delay all planning for the use of FY21 Quality Enhancement funds until further notice. 

Section F: Family child care homes

1. How is OEC addressing family child care home providers?

OEC is committed to all providers, and family child care homes are vitally important at this time. Family child care home providers are included in all of our discussions and plans. Note that, unless otherwise specified, the responses to questions in this FAQ apply to both center-based and family child care home providers.

2. Are there any required changes to operations for family child care home providers?

Providers should follow OEC licensing requirements including but not limited to capacity and infant/toddler restriction. They should follow CDC guidance and OEC Memo # 15 (e.g., taking temperatures when children and staff arrive, cleaning surfaces at least daily, and washing your and the child’s hands for at least 20 seconds with soap as outlined in the memo).

Section G: Health and safety

1. How do we make sure our staff, children, and families are safe?

Please consult your local public health officials for guidance if you are aware of a staff member, child, or family member that has been exposed to COVID-19. OEC Coronavirus Memo #15 outlines reduced group size and enhanced health procedures for child care programs during the COVID-19 emergency. Additional support for making individual program or provider decisions regarding health and safety may be accessed through your program’s health consultant, the local public health department, and/or individuals’ medical providers.

2. What is the process for securing needed cleaning supplies that are available for center-based and family child care homes?

OEC works closely with the State’s Emergency Operations Center to secure health and cleaning supplies for use by open child care providers. Due to limited availability our current focus must be on getting needed supplies to programs currently serving young children. In order to access supplies:

  • Programs should report their open or closed status using 2-1-1’s online provider survey. Confirm your current email to ensure you receive all communications. 2-1-1 provides OEC with the list of which programs are open.
  • OEC then provides open programs with contact information for supply locations to arrange pick ups. 

3. Do child care providers and youth camp staff have to wear masks?

According to the Governor’s Executive Order 7BB, essential employees must wear face coverings. All child care providers are considered essential employees, including youth camp staff and center and family child care providers. Coverings can include masks, cloth face coverings, or other fabric that creates a barrier over the wearer’s mouth and nose. Any of these types of coverings are useful to preventing the spread of COVID-19 when used in conjunction with social distancing measures. The Department of Economic Development publishes guidance related to Executive Orders and Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employees is available on their website. 

It is important to handle the face covering carefully. The CDC guidance on use of face coverings also includes information on cleaning and sanitizing. These resources will help as well:

4. Do children in child care programs and youth camps need to wear face masks? If families request that a child wear a face mask, is this okay? 

See the revised OEC Coronavirus Memo #6 which specifies that per Executive order 7BB a child in a child care is not required to wear a face mask. Families may ask about their child wearing a mask while they are attending a program. Children over age 2 may be permitted to wear masks if requested by families. Per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, no cloth coverings should be placed on children under age 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics published an article on Masks and Children in COVID-19, which provides developmentally-appropriate use guidance and discussion related to masks.

5. How do we communicate with families regarding the safety practices we are following? Will flyers or signs be provided?

OEC will produce printable flyers detailing universal requirements for health screening, group sizes, and enhanced cleaning procedures. Since each center will have its own specific considerations, programs should create their own informational handouts to provide to families about any program specific health and safety practices.

regarding priorities for care, including serving children of healthcare workers, children of essential workers, etc. You might also partner with other early childhood programs in your area to help families connect with care if they are not able to continue with the same program.

6. What process should we use to screen children as they come in each day?

OEC Memo #15 requires that all child care programs must screen staff and children for any observable illness, including cough or respiratory distress, and to confirm temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The CDC offers guidance around safely screening children as they arrive each day, including multiple possible strategies.

7. How do we handle drop off and pick up?

Programs should consider their unique facility in order to minimize contact between groups of children and to limit contact between staff and families. Programs might consider having families drop children off outside, staggering start times, and encouraging families to bring their own pens to sign children in and out. For additional guidance, see the CDC website.

8. How do we handle the situation if children have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19?

The CDC recommends that individuals who are healthy but have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 stay home for 14 days after the last exposure. See the CDC guidance on Quarantine and Isolation for more information about CDC recommended practices. Programs should seek guidance from the CT Department of Public Health and/or local health departments regarding specific circumstances of exposure.

9. What disinfecting procedures should we put in place? How can we manage the time required for these procedures?

The CDC guidance for child care programs that remain open includes guidance related to cleaning and disinfecting. Programs may consider shortening hours of child care in order to allow time for staff to complete cleaning procedures. Programs may also designate staff whose sole responsibility is to implement enhanced cleaning procedures throughout the day.

10. Should we be ensuring that children are social distancing?

Steps should be taken to maintain social distance when possible, such as during nap and meal times. In addition, you must adhere to the enhanced health procedures outlined in OEC Memo #15. Children within the same group of no more than 10 children should be permitted to play together and interact.

11. How do we handle placement of siblings?

If siblings are in the same age group, it is ideal to keep them in the same classroom in order to limit the number of contacts for family and staff.

12. How will licensing inspections be handled during COVID-19?

We are currently working on a plan for resuming regular inspections. Once we establish a plan, we will notify programs subject to such inspections about the details.

13. Will the physical and immunizations requirements continue to be waived? 

The waiver of health and immunization requirements per OEC Memo # 7 is in effect for the period of the declared emergency. When such declaration is lifted, programs will be responsible for ensuring efforts are made to update expired physical and immunization requirements.

Looking for guidance about specific programs?

Take a look at our FAQs for specific programs:
Care 4 Kids and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions
Questions and Answers from OEC’s Home Visiting Town Hall