Childcare has to be a factor in reopening the economy
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The prime minister announced the reopening of the economy with the end of work-from-home orders effective May 31, 2020.
With the closing of schools and social-distancing requirements because of coronavirus, parents are forced to combine work, childcare and managing households during this period. Women especially carry a disproportionate amount of work managing these functions. In Jamaica, STATIN reports that women manage the poorest households and they are often the sole financial and emotional caregivers for their families. Opening the economy is essential to our survival, but can the economy be reopened without considering childcare? No. It cannot. The days of leaving children with grandparents and extended family are over, especially if those family members suffer from immune system disorders and chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which put them at higher risk of serious illness.
It is important for us to spend time to systematically plan for a reopening that bears all things in mind – wearing of masks, social distancing and care for children and elderly. Care professions, such as early childhood professionals, child-carers, nurses and home aids predominantly employ women.
I would like to draw attention to the early childhood sector. Due to coronavirus, persons in this sector are currently living with no salaries, as many institutions lack the resources to provide support to their clients. Many single parents, predominantly mothers, cannot return to work without this support unless they want to be accused of abandoning their children. Women risk falling behind in post-COVID-19 economic planning if these issues are not given due consideration. It not only places women at risk economically, but can also create situations where children are more vulnerable to abuse or neglect.
A possible intervention is for organisations in both the private and public sectors to identify a space where employees can bring their children to work. It may be possible to partner with the Early Childhood Commission to temporarily employ early childhood, primary school teachers and nurse aides to provide support for employees at the office. JMMB is one private organisation that tries to provide a space for employees children to ensure greater efficiency in the workplace.
Another possible option is for the return of the Roving Childcare Programme which was hosted and maintained by UNICEF in the 1990s. This programme provided childcare support to women in rural areas. Roving caregivers also used a toolbox to facilitate the intellectual stimulation of children.
Both suggestions require adjustments to factor in the new normal, such as staggered work hours and regular testing, but it allows for the opening of the economy to a broader group of persons and will in the long run guarantee greater productivity among employees because they know where their children are and who is caring for them. COVID requires us to implement humane strategies and solidarity going forward. I ask that the Government delay removing the work-from-home order until guidelines are put in to govern the reopening of the economy to consider these issues.