Family child care provider Shirley Toby says she gravitated to little ones ever since she was a young girl growing up in Liberia. She took care of the kids of her older siblings, and then after moving to the United States, she watched the children of friends, as well as raised four daughters of her own.
“At some point, I thought this is what I do best. I could do this as a business and help others.”
Toby’s been operating a child care business for 14 years. First out of her home, and then later from a house she purchased in Crystal which she calls P & C Family Daycare.
Like many child care providers, Toby made the decision to stay open when the pandemic started. “At first, I didn’t know what to do,” she said.” But then I talked to some of my parents who are teachers and nurses and they said they still need somewhere to take their children. Several of the kids have been with me all these years so I thought there is no better place for them to be.”
Toby is communicating with parents regularly and reminding them not to bring their children to daycare if they show any signs of illness. She says keeping everyone safe and healthy is a priority. “We get here in the morning and sanitize everything and we make sure the kids’ hands are clean when they get here,” Toby said. “And even after they play a little bit, we do more cleaning. Wiping the tables, the chairs, just wiping everything to make sure we do our part.”
Toby says the pandemic has of course impacted her income “big time”. She only has 4-5 children coming these days, even though she is licensed for 14.
“I employ one child care assistant and she’s struggling,” Toby said. “I have had to reduce her hours because I don’t have the money to pay her.”
Toby received a $1,000 emergency grant through Think Small which helped cover some bills and to purchase much-needed supplies, but that went fast. She applied for an emergency grant from the state but was turned down. Although 1,200 family child care providers and centers did receive grants during the first round, more than 4,200 providers who applied did not. “That was very discouraging. If we don’t have money coming in from our families, we are going to run dry.”
Aside from worrying about how she is going to keep her doors open now, and after the pandemic subsides, Toby is focusing on maintaining an environment that provides quality care and development for her children. She says they are still learning and growing, although they miss the kids who are no longer attending because of COVID-19.
“They are so young they can’t really wrap their minds around the virus and what that means,” Toby said. “They just keep asking, “Miss Shirley, why is my friend not here?”
Toby is hopeful her child care will bounce back after the pandemic, but with so many families out of work she is anxious. “Family child care is a small business that depends on parents bringing their children to survive,” said Toby. “If we all close down, then there will be nowhere for children to get quality care when everybody is working again.”