Parents worry about school, childcare options when they have to go back to work

By KAREN TRAVERS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — It is the burning question for working parents — how and when will their kids get back to school?

“There’s just not enough hours in the day,” Lorey Johnson told ABC News.

Johnson has two children, ages 7 and 4. She and her husband are juggling full-time jobs at home, taking care of the kids and distance learning.

“I was on a video call for work — just with coworkers luckily — and the 4-year-old walked in naked. Everyone thought that was hilarious. I was like, luckily my bosses were on that call. I was like well welcome to my day,” she said.

Ralphie Santiago is a father of two young boys in New York City. He is the coordinator of an after-school program in Harlem for kids ages 8 through 12 — a program that like school — has gone virtual during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“It was like two weeks in or maybe three weeks, then I started realizing I was pretty frustrated with my kids. I really upset with them because I couldn’t sit down and get my work done,” Santiago told ABC News. “One day it just dawned on me, you know at the end of the night like to reflect on how the day went. And how I could do a little better tomorrow for my both of my sons and try to scream less and try to punish them less.”

Santiago, Johnson and millions of working parents have had to quickly adjust to this new normal — without the usual child care arrangements.

“There are no networks right now just because of social distancing. You can’t rely on your friend or your family or your neighbor or someone across the street and it’s really tough for families right now,” said Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time.

Schulte said parents always knew the challenge of work and child care, but the coronavirus pandemic is pulling back the curtain.

“I think a lot of it reflects this long-standing notion in our country that family matters are a private affair and that you just need to figure it all out. ‘I don’t want to hear about it. Go do that. And then just get to work on time,'” she told ABC News.

Eager to get the country back to some state of normal, President Donald Trump is pushing for businesses to reopen and for workers to get back on the job.

“Our country’s got to get back and it’s got to get back as soon as possible,” he said on May 13.

But there is no plan right now from the Trump administration to help working parents while schools and many day care centers are closed.

“Our childcare system — and I say that very lightly — it’s really not a system. It’s very fragile. It’s kind of patched together. It’s very difficult to find quality care — difficult to afford. And this pandemic has just really pushed it to the edge,” said Schulte.

Under the White House reopening guidelines, states can choose to open some businesses in phase one but they cannot open schools until phase 2.

“My company is currently planning to reopen our office at the end of May. But there are several of us with younger school-aged children and they haven’t said anything. They just haven’t addressed that point yet,” Johnson said.

When ABC News asked Trump how Americans can go back to work if schools are closed and whether he is considering how to help working parents, he said, “I think — yeah, good question. I think the schools are going to be open soon.”

But schools in 48 states and Washington, D.C. are closed for the remainder of the academic year.

And the extra load on parents doesn’t end there: many summer camps are cancelled, including the one Johnson’s 7-year-old daughter was set to attend.

“They’ve already canceled that for June, and they haven’t made a decision yet about July. That breaks my heart for her. She’s going to be 8 years old, like, that means she’s gonna have to sit inside, Monday through Friday, all day,” Johnson said.

With the current school year winding down, administrators and educators are already deep into planning for the fall and looking at how and when students can safely get back into the classroom.

This was a big topic last week on Capitol Hill when Republican and Democratic senators pressed Dr. Anthony Fauci on when schools could reopen. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases tried to temper expectations.

“The idea of having treatments available — or a vaccine — to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term, would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” Fauci said.

The president pushed back.

“It’s just — to me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools. The only thing that would be acceptable, as I said, is professors, teachers, et cetera, over a certain age. I think they ought to take it easy for another few weeks,” he said.

The president said in early May that young people do well with the virus, but health experts say they’re not in the clear, with some children now suffering from a potentially coronavirus-related inflammatory disease.

A new ABC News/Ipsos poll found 69% of Americans who have a child under the age of 18 living at home who had been enrolled in school before the pandemic said they are not currently willing to send their child back to school.

“My 4-year-old, her preschool has reopened. We have not sent her back yet because the other one’s at home. There’s no sense in that added exposure,” said Johnson.

“I would not feel comfortable sending kids to school right now or to camp. Because you know there’s no vaccine, but my main thing is I know that no one’s safe until the vaccine is, you know, in place,” said Santiago.

So for the foreseeable future, working parents are scrambling. Millions of essential workers are still leaving their homes for their job and parents who can work from home are simply getting used to doing a work conference call with their kids near them.

“I mean we’re still expected to put in a full day’s work. It’s just impossible. When you’ve got children in the house. You know, they require attention, they — we have to make them meals, they have to be entertained, they have to be supervised and then there’s the whole educational component as well,” Johnson said.

Schulte said working parents need to cut themselves some slack right now.

“A lot of people feel really guilty that they can’t give 100%. This is not a time for anybody to be able to give 100%. Getting through the end of the day is difficult,” she said.

Santiago agreed and had some advice for stressed out parents.

“Just to do your best every day with them and make sure that, you know, whatever you are doing — that when your child reflects about this in a year they say that mom and dad did the best they did and had a great time and it was tough, but, you know, I still love my parents,” he said.

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