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State unveils new 'child care' initiative, in light of COVID-19

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

The Burgum Administration has released a new “child care initiative” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're encouraging all child care providers to remain open, and to serve children and families during this pandemic, but with additional precautions," said North Dakota Department of Human Services director Chris Jones.

One of those precautions is a limit of 10 people per room, which includes children and child care workers. That includes keeping staff with the same children as much as possible, and limiting use of common areas.

Jones said the state will also issue “Child Care Emergency Operating Grants.”

"This is meant to cover some of the extra operating costs taht will come as a result of the modified operating practices," Jones told reporters. "It also is to help sustain the child care industry through this period of significant disruption."

Jones said the price tag could be nearly $11 million a month, statewide. He said those grants will be available to all licensed child care providers, who agree to prioritize children of health, safety and other lifeline households.

The third part of the initiative will allow local school districts to help care for children in grades K-5, whose parents work in vital services.

"Where there is a community in need, outside the existing childcare providers, and where the community conditions allow, we're encouraging K-12 school districts to offer child care on a temporary basis," Jones said.

Jones said those districts could use ancillary staff, such as paraprofessionals, rather than licensed teachers. He said some districts, such as Bismarck, will be doing this.

Jones said the plan will help sustain the child care industry during the emergency – and recovery.

"We absolutely must have a safe and fully functioning chaildcare system now, and when this pandemic ends, and our economy gets back on track," Jones said. "We're confident this plan can help us achieve that goal."

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