Schools aren’t the only places which have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. At home, remote-working parents struggle to balance work and parenting, complicating the already complex …
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Schools aren’t the only places which have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. At home, remote-working parents struggle to balance work and parenting, complicating the already complex relationship many have with their children. For the Chatham County Partnership for Children, COVID-19 has also created changes.
This week, we speak with CPC’s Genevieve Megginson, who led the effort to establish and has served as its executive director since its founding in 1994. Megginson holds a Master of Education Degree from Vanderbilt University (1980) and a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Tennessee (1976). She completed a Fellowship in the University of North Carolina’s Early Childhood Leadership Development Program in 1993.
Her education career includes four years as an elementary special education teacher in the public schools of Tennessee and North Carolina and four years as the director of a Developmental Learning Center in N.C. for very young children with special needs. While her own three children were young, she operated a child care and early education program at her home in Pittsboro for five years, and over the span of 10 years she taught full-time and part-time in the Early Childhood Department of Central Carolina Community College.
Megginson was born in Florida and has also lived in Tennessee and Alabama, where she married her husband in 1974. Megginson is an active member of the Osage Tribe and enjoys visiting Pawhuska and learning about her family roots in Osage County, Oklahoma.
Where’s the greatest call for your services right now?
Helping childcare providers navigate the changing requirements and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their operations; i.e. helping them stay open and cope with the added stress and worry. And helping parents find childcare — first for essential workers and currently for working parents whose school age children need care.
As you survey the landscape and challenges faced by parents and children these days, what do you see? What are your greatest concerns, and what are you most optimistic about?
I am encouraged by how much more engaged many parents are with their children and family life. It has been forced upon us, but we are realizing that we really like having the time together.
Parents are still the first and most important teachers of their children. I do worry about the financial stress and the mental health impact of isolation on adults. I hope that those who are struggling the most will reach out to others in their networks for support. There are a lot of great resources available now to help folks get through it; we are posting a lot on our Facebook page to get the information out there for families (such as the Hope4NC Helpline, at 1-855-587-3463).
How has CPC’s operation changed under COVID-19 restrictions, and what’s changed for your employees?
One of the first things we did when the pandemic hit was to arrange for our staff to telework. We already had several staff who work out of a home office, so we had some familiarity with the process. We quickly adapted our communications and meetings to virtual. And we had to cancel all our fundraising plans and events.
That was a huge change for us because we are so people-focused. We make a lot of phone calls and video calls now to stay connected. We already had good technology tools thanks to our state level partners at Smart Start and the Division of Child Development and Early Education; they have also been very good with guidance and support throughout this crisis.
Our first goal was of course to keep everyone safe and working. We have had a lot to do. Our job has always been to find the resources needed to support families with young children and ensure quality early education is available for all our children. This pandemic has made that work even more critical.
The pandemic has caused lots of food insecurity. How are you all responding?
At first, we used our connections to find needed resources to help with the shortages; we connected child-care programs with local dairies to get milk and farmers to get produce when the grocery stores were running out. We used our Amazon business account to access needed PPE and other supplies that were hard to find, including diapers!
I took delivery of diapers at my home, a dozen cases or more. One of our Head Start teachers came by to pick them up to take to their families who were running out. The community has been very generous; we received several unsolicited donations of cash to help us get the supplies that were needed.
How are things in terms of support and financial help you’re getting?
Financially, we faced some challenges due to the loss of fundraising proceeds. We have worked really hard to get some of the government support that was available, like the Payroll Protection Program. We have not had to lay off any staff so far. I am very grateful for all the supports we have received. Most of our grants were continued, too, so we could do the work to sustain our child-care system.
Childcare is a huge issue — what’s happening there?
Another example of how our work changed due to the pandemic is the effort that went into keeping our childcare programs open. Special rules and safety procedures were put in place to allow childcare facilities to stay open and provide childcare to keep critical worker parents on the job.
This was really hard because so many families of non-critical workers stopped using childcare. Income was cut to less than half for most of our child-care businesses and yet childcare was needed more than ever!
Our staff went to work checking in with each childcare to be sure they had the information they needed to stay open. And our Child Care Search Hotline service for families was refocused to help critical workers find available childcare. We now have a statewide hotline for help finding child care: 1-888-600-1685.
Fortunately, in Chatham we did not have any child-care programs close down; they have been struggling, but they have stayed open and serving the community. We have worked with our local and state level governments to bring in financial supports to our child-care programs. We have gotten grants to help cover some of the expenses for extra sanitation processes and equipment that was required. We are still working to get resources to keep our child-care programs open. And now we are starting to work on ways to build back better and stronger.
Are you able to do any training now, in terms of helping parents and child-care providers?
To better support parents whose children do not attend childcare we are launching a series of play and learn groups using a program called Kaleidoscope.
We had started working on this last winter, before the pandemic hit. With funding from the Chatham Education Foundation, United Way and Chatham County we are offering our first playgroup on Wednesdays starting Sept. 16 at Southwest Park in Goldston (from 10 a.m. to noon).
I worry a lot about children who may be isolated, especially now that we all have to be more physically distant. This can be stressful for young children; they need to play in order to learn. Through Kaleidoscope we will be sharing our knowledge about children’s learning while having fun and connecting families with resources.
Everything we do takes a lot of help; we could never do it all alone. We are grateful for the support and help of our local human service agencies like the Public Health Department, Emergency Operations, Chatham Schools, Chatham Department of Social Services, Chatham County Manager’s Office staff, and our other nonprofit partners like CORA, Chatham Literacy, Chatham Connecting, Chatham Habitat for Humanity, Hispanic Liaison, Kid Scope, and many others. And community groups are helping out too; in Fearrington they are making child masks for us to distribute! We have stayed strong together and we will get through this together.
More about Chatham County Partnership for Children
Founded in 1994, the mission of Chatham County Partnership for Children is to promote opportunities for all our young children to grow up safe, healthy, and able to succeed. In collaboration with numerous community partners, CPC plans, funds, and implement quality early care and education, health, and family support initiatives. CPC’s vast array of services includes the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, the N.C. Pre-Kindergarten Program, Child Care Provider Resources, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and Raising A Reader, in addition to using Smart Start funds to contract with community partner agencies.