Emergency daycares flooded with kids as parents struggle

Starting today, only three-day care centers in Dartmouth are available for parents in need — and it’s not enough, according to one emergency daycare owner.

After Governor Charlie Baker announced the closure of all non-emergency daycare facilities on March 18, Sally Belanger of Sal’s Pals Daycare on Reed Road scrambled to apply for emergency status.

Belanger with infants at her daycare center. Photo courtesy: Sally Belanger/Facebook

Four or five of her regular families have both parents working in essential services, Belanger said, so she needed to remain open for their sake.

But the emergency status meant that she had to accept new children to fill the center to capacity — which the state increased from the licensed six children to eight per worker for the emergency measures.

She only just received notification that her application was approved over the weekend.

And she’s already had to turn a lot of families and child services caseworkers down.

“I’ve gotten calls and emails since 7 a.m.,” she said on March 22, the day before the new measures took effect. “There is a dire need for these services.”

Belanger has worked in child care for 21 years, running the daycare center from her home.

But she’s never seen anything like this. “I already have five new ones coming in tomorrow for the next two weeks,” she said. “I don’t have any more room.”

“I’ve had to turn away a lot more caseworkers and parents,” she continued. “I had a family of three I had to turn down because she had a newborn because I’m only licensed for three kids under two.”

Belanger said that many of the caseworkers and parents were “desperate”, with people calling from all over the state.

There are just two approved emergency daycares in New Bedford and two in Fall River.

One caseworker told her on Sunday that over 40 children in child services needed to be placed immediately for the next morning.

“I hope most of them got placed,” she said.

“It’s horrible,” Belanger added. “There’s definitely not enough [daycares]. But as long as I can help out, that’s what matters.”

Many of the new parents are in a variety of essential jobs. Grocery workers, truck drivers, and psychiatric facility staff make up some of the parents whose children she is taking on this week.

“I just assumed it was medical workers like my regular families,” Belanger said. “But it’s a little of everything!”

She spent Sunday preparing for the flood of children by buying their favorite foods as a treat, after asking their parents about their likes and dislikes.

“The transition’s gonna be hard already,” she noted, adding with a laugh, “I don’t have kids of my own, so I gotta make them smile!”

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