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Daycares In Federal Buildings Scramble To Remain Open

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Bright Horizons childcare centers housed in federal buildings have had to find alternate accommodations for their children.
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons childcare centers housed in federal buildings have had to find alternate accommodations for their children.

With thousands of federal workers on furlough, we all know how the partial government shutdown has been affecting hundreds of thousands of adults. But what about the impact it's having on the region's children?

For youngsters enrolled in Bright Horizons, the preschool and early-education program that partners with more than 850 employers worldwide, life has been turned a bit upside-down.

Bright Horizons has childcare centers at 16 U.S. government agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). But with the shutdown, two of those centers are closed.

"Because of the government shutdown, we were unable to access our center at NOAA," says NOAA center director Holly Mutchler. "And so we were able to be relocated to four other centers that are part of our network."

Those centers include East End at Gallery Place, as well as FERC, which is one of the few government agencies continuing to operate under "normal conditions."

"They had a room that was empty," Mutchler explains, "because they're waiting for children to turn the age when licensing will allow them in a program. So we were really lucky that we were able to bring a whole class of kids here with teachers, and parents aren't having to wonder who this person is that they don't know. They know our teachers and trust them. So it's great we were able to keep the kids together and keep the teachers with them."

It was also a challenge. On Monday, Sept. 30, they had to contact the parents of all 85 NOAA kids, to see who'd require childcare if the government shut down the next day. Then they had to make sure they were complying with student-teacher ratios set by the state. Finally, they compiled files and licensing records and made copies of everything they might need.

After that, Holly Mutchler recalls, "we pretty much took some laundry baskets and carried everything out that we thought might be of importance if we couldn't get back in. At the last minute, at like 10 o'clock Monday night, we were like, 'Oh! The fish can't live in the center by themselves! So there are 10 fish living in my guest room right now! Operation Bright Horizons at my house!"

Doug Miller is a Maryland parent whose youngest daughter has been attending Bright Horizons' NOAA Center. When the shutdown happened, she was initially moved to FERC, but to meet certain ratios, she was then moved to East End.

Miller lives in Silver Spring, and works in Greenbelt and Baltimore as an assistant federal public defender. He's actually working during the shutdown, since his office is considered part of the Judicial Branch.

"That's to keep us kind of out of the chain of command that our nemeses over at the U.S. Attorney's office are in," Miller explains. "So we are separate from the prosecutors. For that reason we are not part of the whole executive branch's determination in terms of who is exempted."

Not that Miller is entirely immune: "For the first 10 days of a shutdown, everything continues as normal," he says. "After that we become free lawyers in every sense of the word, because the judiciary runs out of money to pay us."

But for now, he's delighted to have childcare for his daughter, though, he admits, it's been a bit tricky.

"This morning, after having driven all the way from Silver Spring to Gallery Place, I was then on a conference call with a judge and two prosecutors and one of my colleagues sitting on the BW Parkway an hour and 45 minutes after I'd left home this morning," Miller says. "Was I so thrilled? No!

"But it's nothing compared to the effort [Bright Horizons] put into making it available. And certainly nothing compared to the fact that obviously there are a lot of people working without pay or not working without pay and just waiting for all this to shake out."

And actually, Holly Mutchler and her Bright Horizons colleagues are waiting to see how this government shutdown will shake out, too. With two of their 16 federal facilities closed, they've only secured alternate space through the end of October. And while the shutdown prompted more than half of the NOAA center parents to pull their kids from childcare, Mutchler says many have begun to change their minds.

"You know, on day one families may have not been so in need of care: 'We're going to stay home with our kids,' and things like that. But by day six and seven [they] are like, 'Okay, I want care now!'"

And she and her colleagues hope they can keep providing that care, and keeping families' spirits up, even though so many federal government agencies continue to be shut down.

Rebecca's story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on upcoming stories.
 For more information, click this link.

[Music: "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Baby Lullaby from Baby Lullaby]


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