Easing Parents’ Pandemic Concerns with Emergent Communication

The one thing in childcare that never changes is that something is always changing. Now, more than ever before, childcare owners, directors and teachers are experiencing day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute adaptations and changes to policies and procedures, leaving many people feeling confused, apprehensive and anxious. As if parents weren’t experiencing enough stress in leaving their children in childcare prior to facing the pandemic, new procedures have now been added that prevent parents from entering childcare facilities in order to maintain proper social distancing guidelines and slow the spread of COVID- 19.

Children who have been home with their families for quite possibly the longest stretch of their little lives are working to reintegrate and facing a whole new normal. Families are now saying their goodbyes at the front door and often leaving a tearful toddler in the wake. What is more is that these children are returning to masked adults who are encouraging children to distance themselves, when prior to the pandemic, they’d been taught to play together. They’re being told to limit sharing of items when sharing was the core value in childcare. It is new, it is different, and it is intimidating. While the new procedures are in place for good reason, keeping staff, children, and families as safe as possible, it does not ease the worry or anxiety for anyone involved.

What can childcare providers do to keep families informed and keep the lines of communication open? How can they work to alleviate parent questions and concerns and how do they keep their businesses active during a time filled with so much unknown? The answer lies in prompt, effective and consistent communication.

When in doubt, send it out! Over-inform families and leave no room for the excuse of ignorance when it comes to your policies and procedures. This is a very fluid situation that we are currently facing. However, with the proper protocols in place, you can strengthen your customer service and build confidence in your families with clear and consistent communication.

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, it was critical to keep families aware of childcare happenings however things were more relaxed, and communication was rarely urgent. Email was an effective communication channel.  Parents could read and digest the information at their leisure. Typically, childcare programs sent home folders or had student mailboxes where they would also place pertinent information and while this may not have been as effective as email, it was certainly an additional means to communicate. Now, childcare owners, directors, providers & teachers are left with the necessity to communicate more than ever, with limited face-to-face interactions. In addition, most children of childcare age are just learning how to communicate leaving the communication burden on childcare providers.  Parents are relying heavily on abundant and accurate information.

While maintaining your traditional methods of communication whenever possible is important, it is also crucial to get creative and think outside of the box to develop new and innovative ways to connect with parents and families. With the frequent policy updates, it can become overwhelming and confusing for all parties involved if parents are not kept abreast of the adaptations. Again, emails, hard copy letters, and notes can be wonderful, but they are not immediate. These methods do not always provide parents with the quick information that they need and desire, as a text message can do. Text messaging is the best way to provide parents with the most up-to-date information quickly.

As highlighted here, 90% of text messages are opened with 94% being read in the first three minutes of receiving them.  This is a very insightful consideration when determining the most effective way to get information into the hands of uneasy parents.

The ultimate goal of childcare administrators is to make parents feel like part of the family. It is easy to get caught in the spiral of using quick technology like text alerts to inform parents of emergency situations (think, emergency closings, snow or weather delays, power outages, shelter-in-place, or lock downs, etc.).  Administrators owe it to the parents to keep them overly informed and included in all the building happenings, especially as we are faced with a novel global pandemic.

As things adapt and change with new information surrounding COVID-19, administrators can ease parents’ apprehensions by implementing a text message alert system, such as StepAhead. This allows administrators to get information quickly and efficiently into the hands of parents. From early morning reminders, informing families about the necessary items to pack for the day, to Health Department related symptom alerts, parents can rest assured that they will be kept in the know at all times. Additionally, center directors can alleviate the stress of sending redundant emails and feel confident in the information reaching parents.

Currently, administrators are all too familiar with parent questions such as “do you know when your hours will change? Do you know when a spot will open? Do you know when it will be safe to return? Etc.” These are all questions that are typically unpredictable, especially during such an unprecedented time. Implementing a text alert system gives directors the opportunity to kindly explain information to parents while reassuring them that they will essentially have the information at their fingertips as soon as the center is made aware of adaptations and as soon as restrictions change.

Unfortunately, we are also beginning to see a regression in the progress that we have made as a country. Reports are coming in that COVID-19 cases are again on the rise. Naturally, along with this information comes heightened safety measure and increased protocol and procedures. We certainly cannot predict what this means for the childcare industry, but many administrators are concerned with the possibility of future closings, reduced hours, enhanced safety measures such as additional temperature checks or symptom screenings, and all of the other many worries that come with the possibility of a highly contagious disease impacting the children.

Now, more than ever, childcare administrators need to be equipped to reach families in a moment’s notice. In a world currently filled with an abundance of unknowns, it is critical that those working the front lines with our littlest loves are armed with the best possible communication systems available. With 89% of study respondents stating their phone was on or near them for 22 hours a day, it is easy to discern the power of text message alerts. Embrace the technology and gain the trust of your parents and families with text message alerts. This system will not only ease parent concerns but will also show your sincere value of their time and build the connection between caregivers and families.