Daycare for special needs children stays open during Covid crisis
Updated: May 6
It’s a population that many of us don’t think about every day: families with special-needs children. Some of the daily challenges these kids face - such as dealing with ongoing medical vulnerabilities, and needing constant supervision - have been amplified during the Covid-19 crisis.
In the Denver suburbs, many special-needs families count on the services of “Megan’s Place,” a daycare and respite center for children with disabilities. Megan's Place has managed to stay open during the Covid-19 shutdowns, giving parents time to rest and rejuvenate - breaks these parents might need more than ever, due to the stress of the pandemic.
I spoke to the founders of Megan’s Place, Bryan and Kristin Smock, asking them how they've had to adapt the center - and their lives - to Covid-19.
HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY?
BRYAN: As a family, we’re doing fine. I go to the center like I normally do. I know that it’s affected Kristin more because now she’s working at home, while taking care of both kids. Our daughter Delaney - who turns seven this week - has to do her schoolwork, while one year-old Harrison is running around screaming!
At Megan’s Place, we’ve had to change a lot of our protocols, of course. Now, we don’t allow any parents inside. Parents call when they arrive, and we go outside to bring the kid inside. Same at pickup - we bring the kid to the car.
We no longer allow therapists in the building. Only children and staff. We constantly wipe down surfaces and we’ve provided masks to everyone
Enrollment has definitely gone down since Covid arrived.
KRISTIN: A lot of kids are still coming, between one and five days a week.
For some, it’s because the parents are essential workers. For others, it’s because the parents genuinely need a few hours off, from taking care of their high-needs children.
On a typical afternoon, we used to have 15-18 kids. Now that fluctuates between about seven and twelve.
On weekends, our numbers have dropped dramatically. We used to do a ton of care on Friday and Saturday nights. Overnights helps give parents a solid break. Often it’s for autistic children who barely sleep at all - it lets those parents finally get a rest. Now, we have just two kids coming for overnight care.
In terms of our budget, most of our overhead is staff - and we are always adjusting our staffing based on the number of kids enrolled. For now, we’re confident we'll make it through this crisis, since we still have kids coming. That said - if things don’t turn around by summer, that’s really going to hurt us. We make 70% of our annual income during the summer months.
Some of our staff have opted to not work due to the medical risks right now, and so that has worked out for us. This past week was the first time that we weren’t able to offer enough hours to everyone who wanted them.
All of our staff have been so understanding, being very flexible when I have to change schedules even the night before.
BRYAN: Some staff are not as dependent on their income from this job as others are, and they’ve been willing to adjust - offering their hours to people who are more in need of money.
Megan's Place kids have a variety of disabilities. Developmental and physical. Autism, cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Batten's disease, other chromosomal disorders.
We opened in June 2014. The first six months were the toughest. It took a couple of years before we were able to turn it into our full livelihood.
KRISTIN: But now with Covid - we never could have predicted a challenge like this!
When we decided to launch the business, there was very little competition. Which was good for us, but bad - of course - for parents of special needs kids, who need services like these! Overall, since we started, we have had very high demand.
BRYAN: Some of the parents have to keep their kids one-hundred percent quarantined - because the kids are high-risk medically. For some of them, just a common cold could put them in the hospital. So this is kind of new territory for everyone.
For certain kids, we’ve been able to switch to in-home care, so that the parents can go out to work.
I do fear that I could get the virus. We’ve quarantined ourselves from the rest of our family. Both of our sets of parents are pretty isolated at the moment, not wanting to be around our kids.
We’re moving to a new house on Saturday. We made an offer on a house a week before the world caved in with the virus! So we’re trying to figure out who’s going to watch the kids while we move everything. No one wants to take the risk, which we understand.
KRISTIN: I’m working, packing, and taking care of the kids. I’m nothing if I’m not multitasking!
My patience has been short with the kids. I’m just trying to figure out how to get everything done. I get really worried as the hours tick by and I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. But, day by day, we're settling into a better routine. Delaney helps by playing with Harrison while I work.
For Megan's place, I take care of our scheduling, billing, communications with parents. I’ve also been compiling all the paperwork for the small business administration loans. The first loan - for economic injury - I applied for that but haven’t heard anything, even though funds were supposed to come through in days. I don’t even know who to follow up with.
I also applied for the Payroll Protection loan - that did just hit our account, and we were able to use it for payroll for the first half of April.
We never saw this coming, the pandemic. But we’ll adapt to whatever we need to do, until things go back to normal, or normal-ish. Regardless of what happens, there has to be support systems in place for people with disabilities.