A child and an RECE play on the floor at a safe distance from each other
Connexions Professional Practice

COVID-19 heroes: RECEs in emergency care

There are more than 115 child care centres and 33 licensed home child care operators delivering emergency child care in the province (Government of Ontario, 2020). RECEs are stepping up to work in emergency child care. These professionals have shown tremendous dedication and leadership by supporting children and their families who are frontline and essential workers. “We acknowledge the commitment of RECEs working in emergency child care centres during the pandemic,” says Melanie Dixon RECE, Director of Professional Practice at the College. “We consider you true leaders in communication, collaboration and care.”

The pandemic’s impact on practice

As a care- and relationship-based profession, RECEs understand that strong, positive relationships are necessary for children’s well-being and learning. Building and maintaining caring and responsive relationships with children, families and colleagues is fundamental to your practice (Standard I: A). But things have changed in the time of COVID-19.

During this health crisis, you’re adapting to your work environment while getting to know new children, families and colleagues who are facing different stressors.

“I’ve been re-deployed from my permanent location since it’s located in a school. I normally work directly with the children,” says Rachel Pollard, an RECE working in emergency child care. “However, it’s now my responsibility to screen families and staff members upon entry and to clean and disinfect the centre throughout the day.”

You may have trouble building and maintaining new relationships with children, families and colleagues that you’ve never supported or worked with before. Children are finding themselves in new peer groups. RECEs are working with new families and colleagues. Everyone is facing new and different challenges in their lives.

“Take a moment to recognize that each family, as well as you and your colleagues, will be facing a multitude of feelings and realities as a result of this pandemic,” says Melanie.

You also need to pay attention to new health and safety procedures from the Ontario government. These include continuous disinfecting of toys and frequently touched surfaces; encouraging physical distancing between children; and other health practices, such as screening the children and staff who enter the space on a daily basis. While you need to ensure that you’re complying with safety and health legislation (Standard III: C.2), many of the practices did not exist prior to COVID-19. These new responsibilities may pose additional stress in already stressful circumstances.

“I’m maintaining my relationships and listening to concerns from colleagues, children and their families and am attempting to answer the questions brought forward, or to redirect them to call public health,” says Rachel. “Regional child care centres have had the opportunity to listen in on town hall teleconferences and public health Q&As. Some staff members have reconnected with pre-service students by holding up signs, waving and expressing that we miss them.”

Communication and collaboration are critical

Now, more than ever, your communication and collaboration efforts with colleagues are key to creating a safe, healthy and welcoming environment for children and their families (Standard I: C.6). We understand how challenging this may be, as you might be practising with RECEs you’ve just met. As professionals and leaders, use your professional judgment to navigate the daily challenges you’re facing. RECEs working in emergency child care bring professional knowledge and unique practice experiences.

In these challenging times of supporting children and families during a pandemic:

  • Work collaboratively. Share your ideas, knowledge, past experiences and skills to help create a safe and inclusive learning environment for children.
  • Maintain open and clear communication with colleagues. Ask questions if something is unclear and share all relevant information about the children and yourselves with one another.
  • Build new relationships with colleagues. Get to know each other through daily meetings, discovering similarities and differences, as well as discussing your fears, anxieties and hopes.
  • Remember your collective responsibility. Provide support to a colleague who might be struggling and encourage others to do the same.

Communication and collaboration with families are also critical during these times. RECEs understand their responsibilities to build and maintain responsive and collaborative relationships with families that are based on mutual trust, openness and respect for confidentiality (Ethic B).

“[It’s a challenge] to build authentic relationships with the families. Typically, they come inside and can see all of the visual documentation on the walls and have an opportunity to pop their heads into the classroom to see what their children have been exploring or are interested in. In this state of emergency, the parents aren’t permitted to go further than the front door,” Rachel says.

The College recognizes that building relationships with new families can be just as difficult as it is with colleagues. The current circumstances are made even more challenging as the families you are interacting with are dealing with their own added stressors in these circumstances. As both a professional and leader, it’s important to be mindful of this and aim to uphold the profession’s core set of beliefs and values when communicating with families.

Keep in mind:

  • When communicating with families, be respectful of their current realities. For example, some families may be unable to enter the space, may not have time to chat at drop-off, or some might be later than usual picking up their child(ren).
  • Communication about the child’s health is crucial during these times. If a child is feeling unwell or showing symptoms, be sure to follow the Government of Ontario’s Guidelines and communicate all relevant information with families as soon as possible.
  • Be there to support children and families, while remembering that we are not the experts on what is unfolding with the pandemic nor are we experts on mental health. Always refer a child or family that is struggling to Ontario Public Health or a local mental health crisis centre.
  • Collaborate with the new families to the best of your ability by getting to know them and building respectful and responsive relationships.

You’re important, too

As an RECE working in emergency child care, it’s important for you to take care of yourself. Living, let alone working, in a pandemic situation can be very stressful, so it’s important to pay attention to your mental health. Here are some tips from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:

  • Set reasonable expectations for yourself, not ones that will lead you to feel defeated. Having reasonable expectations and being kind to yourself and others are vital.
  • Reach out for support. That support could be a colleague, supervisor, family, friend, neighbour or support like the Mental Health Commission of Canada or your local crisis centre.
  • Follow reliable sources when it comes to information about COVID-19. These include government websites (provincial or federal), CDC or WHO
  • Take time to do things that you enjoy and try to find balance. Although many of the activities and hobbies we love have been altered due to physical distancing, find activities that give you joy at home.
  • Recognize and acknowledge things that are in your control and those that are not.
  • Remember that this is temporary and will pass.

“I’m lucky as I have a great support team in my personal and professional life, says Stacey Charalambous, an RECE and acting supervisor working in an emergency centre. “At home, I rely on my husband, children and extended family. We communicate daily about our days and talk through how we’re feeling. To support my physical health, I get outdoors. The fresh air and change of environment really helps my mood.”

RECEs are working in many new and unpredictable circumstances. Know that you are valued. Your role in the communities that you serve is something to be proud of. Take care of yourselves and each other.