photo: Pixabay

PHILIPSBURG – After two months of lockdown, early childcare facilities are still unable to operate at Sint Maarten. These schools rely on monthly transactions from parents to fund their operations and many parents stopped paying their contributions due to loss of income or uncertainty.

According to Sophia Farell-Hassell, president of St. Maarten Early Childhood Development Association (SECDA), daycare centers do not receive subsidies from the government like other schools. Some operators have mortgages and pay rent for their establishments and cannot survive.

Sophia Farell-Hassell about child care

‘We cannot expect support from the government or our employer’
Parents like Kenty Lichtenberg, says that the economic situation leaves them with no other choice but to rely on day care. “The reality is that due to the fact that we do not have a sustainable economy, we cannot expect support from our government or employer in terms of working remotely and keeping our children home.” She added that it’s a mental strain constantly having to think of your child’s health.

Nichele Abreu-Smith. and her son. Courtesy of Nichele Abreu-Smith.

Also, given the high touch nature of these schools, many parents were afraid to send their children back to school. This means more loss of income for daycares. Nichele Abreu-Smith did send her son back to daycare. “My son is already conscious of washing his hands and wearing his mask. I believe it can work as children are more adaptable than adults. We need to give them more credibility than we do”, she says.

Child care most affected according to survey
NPOwer, an organization created to formalize a network for NGOs & NPOs, released a detailed survey showcasing the needs of these organizations in light of Covid-19. According to the survey, in which 96 organizations took part, 37% of organizations could not operate since the corona crisis. Those most affected are educational, child care and community engagement related operations.

Hassell says the centers biggest struggle is financial support since some schools are operating with either half or less amount of students in their care. Assistance to purchase PPEs and obtain funds through the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) was possible, but not for all operators.

Schools are operating with either half or less amount of students in their care
-Sophia Farell-Hassell

Other means of funding are being explored, says Hassel. “Through UNICEF and SMDF, SECDA was able to receive support thus far.” Recently a summer camp was hosted that allowed students to go on adventures and take part in artistic, recreational and educational programs. While some students were unable to pay for their participation, extra funding allowed for them to join. Some day cares are also providing “after school” programs for older students, to tutor and help those in need of extra classes.

Corona cases are rising again
As the island tries to manage and stay afloat due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus, ripples of the first wave continue it’s impact on the quality of life on St. Maarten. At present, cases are constantly rising.