Single mom's access to child care during lockdown depends on definition of 'essential worker'

·3 min read

Having an extremely accommodating employer has helped Jakelin Noftall navigate through the complicated intricacies presented by the pandemic and the current shutdown.

But the single mom says things would be so much easier if medical support staff were included in the list of essential workers.

Noftall works as a receptionist at a local doctor’s office and has had to juggle her job as well as her personal network of family and friends during the pandemic to ensure her elementary school-aged son is cared for.

With the latest lockdown and the physical closure of schools, she’s not been able to access child care and has had to take most of the week off her job.

“We have to see patients in the office because 90 per cent of our client care is pregnancies,” said Noftall, who works in an obstetrics/gynecology office.

But even though the after-school care her son goes to is offering full-time care this week with the school closures, she can’t access the free service provided to pre-approved essential workers.

As a support worker in a medical office, Noftall says she doesn’t qualify as essential while her medical colleagues do.

“I can’t get child care because I’m not essential enough?” she asks.

The County of Simcoe is facilitating access to targeted emergency child care this week for qualified parents of school-aged children, at no cost to eligible parents. ​The county’s website links to a revised list of eligible workers.

In addition to regulated health professionals, accommodation is also being made to the “unregulated health-care provider working in health-care delivery, either directly or indirectly.”

Noftall says she went through the website to determine the meaning of “unregulated” and concluded that it refers to jobs such as personal support workers (PSWs) and those actually providing care, but not medical support staff.

She’s also been in touch with the care facility directly who, on Monday, suggested she “might” be eligible, given that the criteria has been altered since the summer.

Noftall already qualifies for child-care subsidy as a single mom, so the only outstanding issue is getting into daytime child care. Prior to the lockdown, she was receiving before- and after-school care.

“It’s just being able to access care,” she said. “We went through the same problem in summer. It’s not the first time I’ve been in this position.”

Simcoe County has been following the direction of the Ministry of Education to collaborate with local stakeholders to provide access to targeted emergency child care that will support eligible parents of school-aged children, at no cost to eligible parents, from Jan. 4-8, said Heather St. Germain, manager of early learning and child care, children and community services with the County of Simcoe.

So far, county officials report they’ve placed 62 children into licensed child care, and applications are still coming in.

Information about the emergency child care program has been posted and eligibility criteria is also available online.

When child care was unavailable to her in the summer, Noftall relied upon her son’s dad, her own mom and a babysitter while also taking off an afternoon each week to fill in the care gap.

Given that the shutdown is occurring during the school year, she is concerned that the remote-learning approach may be extended beyond just this week and that could further interrupt her son’s learning regime. And that’s where family members will once again come into play so that she can return to work.

“You can apply for the caregivers benefit. It’s nice that the government is giving that leeway, but as a single parent, it’s not as much as my paycheque,” she said.

The upside of the whole situation, though, is that Noftall says she “is beyond blessed to work for who I work for." Her employer has been flexible through the entire pandemic and even in previous years, allowing her to take time off work so that she can provide care for her son.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com