The Investigators: Working parents choose between child care or leaving children unattended as students learn virtually

State changes may help with their decision
Updated: Aug. 27, 2020 at 9:17 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With more than 95,000 Shelby County students attending classes at home this school year, parents are forced to answer who will watch their children kids while they work, and is that child care affordable?

For some parents, they may be asking if their children are old enough to be left home alone if there’s no other option.

“I wanted to make sure that my granddaughter was in an environment where someone would be able to watch her and keep her safe,” said Demetria Harris, an SCS teacher. “That way I can make sure I’m doing what I need to do as an instructional facilitator for the school system.”

Harris went to Cozy Corner Child Care in Raleigh. Cathy Holliday is the owner.

“I had one a parent text me this morning. She said, ‘I’m going to need your help. I can’t be at home. We can’t afford to have one income. I can’t put this all on my husband. Do you have any spots available,’” said Holliday.

The spots Holliday has available for school-age children are new because Tennessee is allowing licensed child care facilities to supervise students during the school day.

The Department of Human Services normally requires a waiver or prohibits the practice entirely.

These aren’t anything like normal times, so the limitations have been lifted for children who attend schools where remote learning is an option.

Still, parents have had questions for Holliday.

“They wanted to know would it actually be a teacher in here and I explained to them it’s virtual learning,” she said.

The state does not require that a teacher or certified education be present.

However, parents also have concerns about cost.

“Don’t ask me to choose between not being able to pay my rent and teaching my son,” said one parent who did not want to be identified.

She has a 9-year-old who needs supervision during the school day.

“He’s not old enough to stay home and be disciplined enough to get on the computer, take his breaks and take his lunch at the designated times that he should,” she told The Investigators.

There is no legal minimum age required for a child to be left home alone in Tennessee, Mississippi or Arkansas.

However, should something bad happen to a child while they’re alone, the parent could be held responsible.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives guidance to parents considering leaving their children home alone.

It suggests asking the following questions:

  • Is your child physically and mentally able to care for themselves?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
  • How does your child respond to unfamiliar or stressful situations?
  • Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?

For parents who answer ‘no’ to answer of those questions, Holliday said she will step in.

So far, she has kindergartners, middle and high school students who will be present learning.

“These are kids and you got to make sure that they on task,” she said. “The parents will have to bring the device and the hot spot. If they don’t have a hot spot, it’s not biggie. We do have internet and I’ve upped my internet.”

While the students are learning, so too will Holliday and her staff.

“We got to get used to the new norm for us,” she said. “We’re just basically going with the flow. And we want to stay in compliance.”

The Investigators compiled a list of area day cares that are providing spots for school-age children.

The YMCA is also proving supervision for virtual learning for essential workers.

To apply for child care assistance, visit the TDHS website.

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