This series profiles the experiences of RECEs as they navigate the pandemic.
We interviewed Lead RECE, Rachel Pollard, of the Niagara-based Port Colborne Child Care Centre.
Q: Can you tell us about your practice setting and what you do?
A: I’m the Lead RECE where I assist the Supervisor with day-to-day operations and administration. As a team leader, I provide guidance and direction to the RECEs while also building relationships with children and their families.
Q: In what ways has COVID-19 affected your professional role and practice setting?
A: I’ve been redeployed from my permanent location in Port Colborne, which is in a school, to a child care centre in Welland that’s providing emergency child care to frontline workers. I normally work directly with children; however, in my redeployed position, it’s my responsibility to screen the families and staff members upon entry and to clean and disinfect the centre throughout the day.
We’ve decreased the staff to child ratio into small groups. The centre has provided hand sanitizer and gloves in every area of the centre so educators can use them as needed throughout the day. All toys are disinfected during each transition, as are high-touch surfaces throughout the centre. Throughout the pandemic, Niagara Region has worked hard to develop new policies and protocols to keep us safe and healthy. My employer has given us the opportunity to ask any questions we’ve had.
Q: Practice, at this time, is about supporting one another and maintaining our health, as well as the health of our families and communities. How are you feeling?
A: I’ve been much more cautious at work and in my personal life. I’m in the habit of constant hand washing and sanitizing after touching almost anything and everything. At work, we’re taking the appropriate precautions advised by Public Health which include using a strict health-screening protocol before allowing entry into the centre. If any staff member or child shows signs of being unwell, we’re obligated to deny entry at the door.
Q: During this time of isolation and uncertainty, what are you finding useful in supporting your physical, mental and emotional health?
A: My daily routine hasn’t been greatly impacted, actually. I go home after work, make dinner and spend time with my partner and our dog.
I’m fortunate that I’m continuing to work full time and have access to information and resources through the Employee and Family Assistance Program I have through work.
I know the amount of stress this state of emergency has caused, so I keep up-to-date on new information about COVID-19 and how to protect my health and the health of others.
Public Health has been a great support for us – they come to the centre weekly and answer any questions we have.
Q: Relationships are central to our profession. How are you maintaining collaborative relationships?
A: I make sure to be available to listen to concerns from my colleagues or the children and their families. I do my best to answer their questions, but I redirect them to call Public Health if I can’t address their concern.
We’re also required to check our email daily to be sure we have current information. Regional child care centres have had the opportunity to listen in on town hall teleconferences and public health Q&As.
Some of us have reconnected with pre-service students. In virtual meetings, we hold up signs, wave and express that we miss them and hope they’re all staying safe.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced related to building relationships and fostering collaboration in this period of physical distancing?
A: The biggest challenge I’m experiencing is the physical distancing. The children (and sometimes staff) need regular reminders of the ‘six feet of separation rule.’ Depending on the age of the children, this is sometimes just not feasible. During close interactions with the children, staff wear gloves and some wear masks or shields as well, which have been provided by the Niagara Region. When a child is upset and crying, staff use a blanket to cover their shoulder while comforting them.
Another challenge is building authentic relationships with the families. Typically, families would come into the centre, see the visual documentation of learning on the walls, and have an opportunity to pop their heads into their child’s room to see what materials they’ve been exploring. In this state of emergency, parents may enter the building but cannot go further than our front door.
Q: Can you share something positive about your experience navigating with new modes of communication or practice?
A: The staff had the idea to display photo documentation at the front entrance for families to see. As the children are picked up, I see them pointing and sharing with their families about what they were doing in the photo. One child was entirely new to child care and his mother was hesitant to leave him, so we emailed her photo updates throughout the day. At pick-up, she very thankful for the photo updates; they made her feel better.
While we’ve had fewer opportunities to get to know families, we’ve had a few parents ask if, when things go back to normal, they can keep coming to this centre. The families are really appreciative.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts to share with other RECEs?
A: One of my favourite quotes comes to mind during this tough time:
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R.Knost
I “share the calm” by spreading positivity throughout the centre, checking in with staff and the children on a daily basis, and being flexible to sudden changes as information from Public Health can change day by day. Stay safe everyone!