Staffing crisis, program closures intensify childcare needs in Wareham

Oct 6, 2021

When Wareham Public Schools went fully remote in March 2020 due to the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, the district’s Beyond School Time childcare program — which provided both before and after-school childcare — shut down. 

Even as the district brought its students back to the classroom during the 2020-2021 school year, the Beyond School Time childcare program remained shuttered. 

At the end of April, the Wareham Boys and Girls Club announced it would be closing abruptly — with about six weeks left in the school year. 

This school year, a staffing crisis within the childcare industry and the closures of these once-integral childcare programs have left many parents navigating waitlists or rearranging their own work schedules to ensure their children are cared for before and after school.

Wareham resident Colleen Godin is a preschool teacher who works at KinderCare Learning Center in Plymouth. She said her mother was one of her primary caretakers for her children when she was at work — up until last year when she lost her mother to leukemia. 

Fortunately, Godin said her 3-year-old daughter is still able to come with her to work. But she relied on the Beyond School Time childcare program for after-school care for her 8-year-old son. 

“That was my source of help after my mom got really ill,” she said. “I didn’t have to cut my hours at work, I didn’t have to rearrange anything to go get him.”

When the district brought its students back last year but didn’t bring back the Beyond School Time program, Godin said she had to begin taking almost a two-hour lunch break to pick up her third grader from school and bring him to her workplace in Plymouth.

“It really cut into my hours,” she said. “And because I can’t find anything again, I have to do that all over again.” 

Godin said she was on a waitlist for childcare at Best Friends Learning Center — one of a few childcare centers in Wareham. 

“If I can’t find something quickly, my boss cannot guarantee me getting my hours back,” Godin said. “And that’s really tough because I don’t want to lose my hours at work. I don’t want to be a part-time employee. I want to be full-time.” 

Weeks into the school year, Godin still hadn’t found childcare to suit her family’s needs, leaving her hours “in the air” indefinitely. 

“It’s very nerve-wracking because I don’t know what my paycheck will look like,” she said. “And I don’t have care, so I have to keep going back and forth.”

Going from 40-hour weeks to part-time, Godin said she could lose her employer-provided medical benefits and more.

“If this continues throughout the school year, I have lost all of my benefits from being a full-time employee,” she said. “It’s scary.”

Childcare providers are facing hurdles — primarily with staffing their programs and maintaining pandemic safety measures.

Jane Fondulis, director of Beyond School Time for Wareham Public Schools, said that the decision not to bring back the Beyond School Time childcare component was, in part, because of the ongoing covid-19 safety and cleaning guidelines. 

Fondulis said it wasn’t possible to adequately disinfect the cafeteria before lunch, for example, if it was used for childcare before school. 

“We still don’t allow visitors in the buildings, so that came into play,” she said, noting how that would have made student pick-up a challenge. In addition, she said day school teachers who would have staffed the Beyond School Time childcare program would have been wearing masks for the entire duration. 

“So covid just didn’t let us do what we needed to do,” Fondulis said, noting the importance of “keeping our staff safe and our students safe.”

The Gleason Family YMCA offers school-aged childcare after school and, now, before school as well.

“We had never in the past done before care here,” ​said Debbie Fringuelli, senior executive director at the YMCA. “We added that this year specifically because we knew the school wasn’t going to be able to do it.”

Ashley Texiera, the Y’s school-aged child care and camp director, said that at current staffing levels, the YMCA is able to serve 39 kids. Currently, the Y’s after-school childcare is at capacity, she said. 

“Right now it is a lot of new kids that we hadn’t had before that either came from the Beyond School Time program at the Elementary School or new people that were looking into the Y in general,” Texiera said. 

As the school year approached, Texiera said the Y was “just inundated with registrations” for childcare. They filled up quickly, and she said the YMCA’s childcare now has a waitlist of about four people. 

The Y is not the only childcare program with a waitlist. 

Melissa deSousa, a spokesperson for the Wareham Little People’s College, said that the facility’s school-aged childcare program — which can accommodate 35 kids for before and after-school care — is full. She said the program has a waitlist, but noted that it is unlikely spots will open up.

Fringuelli said that the Y would like to serve more kids, but being able to open enrollment again depends on staffing levels. 

“There’s a staffing crisis,” Fringuelli said. “That’s a huge part of the ability to serve — the inability to find qualified staff who meet” the YMCA’s hiring requirements.

She emphasized that the YMCA is hiring. 

When the new Wareham Elementary School opens, the YMCA hopes to provide its childcare programs on site, Fringuelli said. However, unless the Y is able to find more staff, the program won’t be able to accommodate more students.

In the meantime, parents like Godin are stuck doing what they can.

“I know the pandemic was hard on the entire world,” Godin said. “But if we’re going to slowly open up and people are going to return back to work” parents who don’t have anyone else need reliable childcare. “My mom was my main support, and she’s no longer in this world. So I don’t have anybody that I can turn to. My other family — they don’t live around here, and they’re working as well. And I know many other families are like that.”