Assistant director Alma Samaniego spritzes out the hand sanitizer before serving up the afternoon snack to about a third of the normal number of kids, and with only one other staffer, half the staff at Small Marvels preschool, March 17, 2020, Tucson, Ariz.

Editor's note: This story was first published on March 27 and was last updated on April 14.

At this time, the best place for parents and children to be is in their own homes, but that's not an option for everyone. Particularly parents who work in essential jobs like health care, grocery stores and emergency services. 

Check this list of essential services outlined by the state of Arizona.

So far, many groups haven't seen a huge increase in demand for child care but they are open and prepared to serve families who need care now and in the foreseeable future as school closures remain in place. Here are a few options. 

Arizona Child Care Resource & Referral 

Arizona Child Care Resource & Referral is a state-funded program that helps connect families to licensed, certified and registered child care providers and also helps provide resources for providers and the community for all things related to child care. 

Staff had been expecting phones to ring off the hook in the last couple of weeks with parents looking for care for their children, but so far those calls largely haven't come, says Michelle Saint Hilarie, the senior statewide program director for Child Care Resource & Referral. 

Still, staff has been working non-stop to connect with child care providers across the state to collect data and assess the supply of child care.

Last week the organization sent out a needs assessment survey to identify which providers and centers are open; closed; open but not accepting new enrollment; and closed but willing to provide care for essential workers if needed. The center is using that information to keep its provider search database up to date (where parents can search for child care in their area) and to prepare for a surge in demand for emergency care if it comes.

Saint Hilarie says that providers who are currently closed have cited reasons like lack of supplies — for example, gloves required for changing diapers or disinfectants — not enough parents bringing their children for care, and general health concerns around COVID-19. 

Parents who are looking for care can use the self service search tool on the organization's website, but Saint Hilarie asks that at the very least they call the service at 1-800-308-9000 to let them know they are looking for care so they can better gauge what the actual need is from the community. 

Saint Hilarie says a number of other early childhood organizations, advocates and state departments like the Department of Economic Security and the childcare licensing division at the Arizona Department of Health Services have been in regular communication about preparing for a surge in demand for care and to help providers who are concerned about loss of income while parents are keeping their children at home. 

She has also called on these groups and providers to consider how child care would be impacted if a shelter-in-place order was implemented or child care centers or homes were shut down and to come up with true emergency responses for these scenarios to continue to provide care for essential workers. 

Go here to learn more about Arizona Child Care Resource & Referral.

Arizona Enrichment Centers

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Education set up a website to help essential workers find childcare at a number of "Arizona Enrichment Centers", which include a mix of licensed childcare facilities and providers already identified by the Arizona Child Care Resource& Referral program, school district facilities and community organizations providing childcare.

Workers in these essential functions can register may qualify for priority childcare and may be eligible for a scholarship. 

More information can be found here.  

YMCA of Southern Arizona

Last week, the YMCA of Southern Arizona announced that it would be utilizing its facilities solely to provide emergency childcare for families working to provide vital services to the community including first responders, medical professionals and military. The service is being offered at five centers in Tucson and one in Pinal County for children ages 5 to 12.

Children and staff are being kept in groups of fewer than 10 and staff is directed to disinfect spaces after group transitions, says Candis Martin, YMCA of Southern Arizona's association aquatics director. So far, more than 220 children have been served by the program, but the YMCA has the staffing and space to accommodate up to 2,000 children if needed, Martin says.

The YMCA will be offering its emergency care program at least through April 10. Go here to learn more about the program and to register.

Boys and Girls Club of Tucson - Frank & Edith Morton Clubhouse

While the majority of the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson clubhouses and regular programming remain closed, the Frank & Edith Morton Clubhouse, 3155 E. Grant Road, opened its doors Monday to provide emergency childcare for families of essential workers. Like the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club is also following CDC guidance on group size and sanitizing spaces. Temperature checks are being done on anyone who enters the building as well, says Boys and Girls Club of Tucson CEO Debbie Wagner.

The center has the capacity for up to 60 children in its program and still has openings, Wagner says. Parents currently using the service include those who work for the fire department, sheriff's department and healthcare workers. 

Wagner said the organization chose to offer emergency childcare to continue to meet the evolving needs of the community. 

"It's really an unparalleled time for us in our history and our mission is to serve kids that need us most," Wagner says. "And we're a key part of the community and it's been so good to us and we just felt it was our responsibility to give back and to do what we do best which is to serve those kids."

Childcare is set to be offered through the end of next week with the possibility of extending that time or expanding to accommodate more children at other sites if the demand increases. Learn more about the Boys and Girls Club's childcare program and find an application here

Vail School District

Other local school districts have closed their preschool and childcare facilities along with schools, but Vail School District has continued to operate its tuition-based preschool and school-age child care programs to serve its families who have no other options. 

"When the schools were ordered to close, one of the things that the governor said was he was hoping that child care facilities would stay home because of the struggle it puts parents into if child care facilities are closed down, so we never closed ours," says district spokeswoman Darcy Mentone. 

The district is utilizing seven different sites to maintain small group sizes and social distancing and only has about 10 percent of its usual enrollment, Mentone says. 

On Wednesday the district sent an email to all families letting them know that anyone in the district who works in essential services and could not keep their children home or find other options was eligible to enroll their children in the program. As of noon Thursday there were no new registrations, Mentone says. 

"It's really amazing how many people have been able to find other options," Mentone says. "When we first talked about it we thought we'd probably get 50 percent enrollment and the fact that it's down to 10 is really surprising to us. People are just choosing to keep their kids home with them."

Trusting Connections 

Although centers are slow to fill, the demand for in-home nanny services has been huge, says Rosalind Prather co-founder of Trusting Connections, a nanny and babysitting agency based in Tucson that also serves Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. 

"What we're really seeing is something we've never seen before for sure. I think it's the combination of... having kids home from school unexpectedly so parents couldn't really plan. Usually for summer parents are usually planning a months in advance and this was just literally thrown on parents and then that in addition to parents also working from home, and kids are starting to do schoolwork from home and it's a lot of juggling. And so, our phones have been ringing a lot," Prather says. 

In addition to individual families Prather says Trusting Connections has heard from several large businesses that employ essential workers, including hospitals, who are looking for child care solutions for their employees. 

"For people who are essential workers that need to get to work in a hospital, they have no back-up plans. A lot of people really rely on their parents to provide care, but now is a critical time for those older populations to be staying home and not be exposed," Prather says. "So when parents used to rely on grandparents, now that's not an option, so of course families need nannies so they can simply get to work." 

She says the company has been hiring "fast and furiously" to meet the demand. 

"Nannies have always been as we say the unsung heroes behind the doctor getting to work, or the scientist getting to the lab," Prather says. "Now that's true more than ever, that doctor that's there in the hospital taking care of you is there because there's a nanny at home watching their kids so we're really proud of that."

In early April, Trusting Connections announced it was temporarily offering virtual nanny and homeschool help and assistance with errand running. 

Learn more about Trusting Connections and all of its services (including DIY nanny screening and consulting services) here

Tucson Unified School District and Marana Unified School District

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Tucson Unified School District and Marana Unified School District will begin offering at the start of next week for children ages 12 and under whose parents are first responders, health care employees and other essential personnel. Learn more about the programs and registration here

La Petite Academy and Childtime Learning Center

These childcare centers are both part of Learning Care Group which operates several centers throughout the U.S. and are offering discounted child care for essential workers. 

There are six La Petite Academy centers and two Childtime Learning Centers in Tucson that are offering full or part-time care for infants through school-age children. 

Jon Aitken district manager for Learning Care Group said that the centers are following guidance from the CDC and local and state officials and centers have about 40% enrollment. 

Go here to learn more about locations and tuition information. 

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