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Saint John-area daycares stay open for children of essential workers

Access to daycare services considered a challenge for Saint John parents, workers
WATCH: Many people working in essential services are seeking child care through the handful of daycares that remain operational. Tim Roszell has more.

Krista Aubin walked her two daughters to the front door of Hamilton Homestyle Daycare on Gault Road in Saint John.

“Goodbye,” she told five-year-old Aida with a kiss, while handing off two-year-old Evelyn to a worker.

New COVID-19 prevention policies prevent Aubin from entering the daycare facility beyond a small vestibule at the main entrance.

Aubin works in the medical field. She and her husband are both considered essential service workers.

READ MORE: New Brunswick declares state of emergency to ‘slow down’ spread of coronavirus

Thursday’s drop-off is only marginally different than normal because her children are at their regular daycare, but Aubin said it has still been an adjustment, especially for her older daughter.

“The other morning (Aida) said to me, ‘Look, there’s only bus and one car on the road, and that’s because of the virus,'”Aubin said. “That tugs at your heart. She’s only five and it’s emotional for them.”

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“It makes it real,” she continued. “It does. And when your kids are stating these things to you about noticing less people, less traffic, yeah, it causes more of a separation reality.”

READ MORE: New Brunswick identifies 3 new presumptive coronavirus cases, bringing total to 11

Aubin said she became concerned when it became apparent licensed daycares in New Brunswick were going to close to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We don’t have many options,” Aubin said. “And those options, right now, one is on self-isolation from travel. The other, immuno-compromised, so they’re unable to take our children.”

Heather Hamilton, the owner and operator of Hamilton Homestyle Daycare and Seawood Early Childcare Centre, said she volunteered to keep her two facilities open during the outbreak.

“It was the right thing to do,” Hamilton said. “Just because it was right. It might be hard, but it was still right.”

Hamilton Homestyle Daycare normally employs 17 people and cares for 60-88 children on an average day.

READ MORE: Child identified as 8th case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick

In moving to cover for essential workers, Hamilton said there are six staff members on duty and about a dozen children. She expects the number of children to increase soon as more families of essential workers move their children into her care.

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“We know that these kids are going to come in hot,” Hamilton said. “There’s no transition time. It’s new to them. They don’t understand why they’re coming to a new place. They’ve left their other friends behind, they don’t understand why. We’ve tried to make it a positive thing.”

As new children come in, others are forced to step aside because their families do not meet the criteria of essential workers.

Charles Bryant, a criminal defense lawyer in Saint John, has had four children at Hamilton Homestyle Daycare over the last five years. Three of them – a three-year-old and 19-month-old twins – were still attending last week, but are now being cared for at home.

“We’re just taking it day-by-day and expecting that it will be a long period of time that we’re not able to return to normal, whatever that will mean,” Bryant said.

READ MORE: N.B. implementing COVID-19 assessment centres to reduce ER visits

He said he and his wife have tried to explain COVID-19 to their eldest child, a six-year-old boy in Kindergarten, but it’s “been a challenge.”

Bryant said he will not hesitate to bring his children back to the daycare when the threat of the virus subsides.

“It’s not surprising that (Heather) and (her staff) would want to step up and provide that service, exposing themselves and their loved ones to some risk,” Bryant said. “(We are) certainly proud of what they’re doing.”

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Hamilton said there are only four daycares staying open in the region. The government has limited each spot to a total of 50 children, meaning there are only two hundred childcare spaces available in the Saint John area. But she fears that won’t be enough.

She’s also concerned about being able to pay her bills.

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“We’re running at a reduced staff, but we’re also running at parents (whose children would normally be here) that aren’t coming to pay for their spaces,” Hamilton said. “Those that are coming in for essential workers will pay for their spaces, but is that going to be enough? So, coming into the end of the month, we’ve got rents due.

“We can always manage with food and some of those pieces, but the rents are the big pieces.”

Aubin said she is thankful for being able to keep her children in a safe familiar environment.

“We love our daycare family,” Aubin said. “And I think, you know, they love our kids, too. And they would do anything they can for us and they have.”