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Department of Human Services encourages Pennsylvania families to explore options for school-age child care

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Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller reminded Pennsylvanians of options available to working families of school-age children who need flexibilities to balance the demands of work, home and school life during a pandemic.

“The COVID-19 crisis has been a burden on everyone, but it continues to be an especially heavy one for Pennsylvania’s working families with children,” Miller said. “That’s why the Department of Human Services has introduced some flexibilities into its child care policies that are designed to help families navigate this new world of virtual learning, telecommuting and virus mitigation. School-age child care is a necessity for many Pennsylvania families right now, and DHS is committed to supporting these families with increased options and flexibilities.”

DHS has announced the temporary suspension of some regulatory policies on school-age child care, with the goal of providing flexibilities for families who need safe child care options during traditional school hours for children who are distance learning.

For example, families may create collectives – or learning pods – of other trusted families in their community who can depend on each other for supervised child care during school hours without needing a licensed child care certification. DHS has developed guidance for families interested in establishing learning pods. The policy document that outlines requirements for learning pods is also online at https://www.dhs.pa.gov/coronavirus/Documents/Non-Licensed_SACC%20and%20Pod%20Final%20082620.pdf.

Learning pods are specifically designed to accommodate remote learning under parental supervision shared by multiple families on a routine basis. Pods can serve a group of no more than 12 of the same school-age children who may move between various parents’ oversight and homes on remote learning days. Parent/guardian oversight is key to the definition of a pod.

Because school-age children are expected to be in school for the bulk of their day, there are restrictions on licensed child care for school-age children. Recognizing that families need flexibility right now, DHS has temporarily modified and relaxed these restrictions.

For example, non-licensed part-day school-age programs like summer day camps and sports camps are limited in regulations to operating no more than 90 days per year. This allows short-term programs for school-age children to operate without being required to become a certified child care provider.

DHS has temporarily suspended the 90-day limit on these types of programs so that they can operate throughout the school year and provide the care and supervision that families desperately need for their children. These programs must comply with the same requirements as learning pods, including Health and Safety plans for COVID-19 mitigation and compliance

This week, DHS launched a tool on its website where families can go for information about non-licensed school-age programs, https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1xK9DRoo0c9vh-pKvILWicql4UPYi4KTy&ll=40.35774635086246%2C-79.88135404053199&z=11. DHS will continue to add information to this tool as providers submit it to the department.

When possible, DHS recommends that families choose licensed child care providers, which have routine oversight and must comply with statewide child care regulations. To find licensed providers in your community, visit www.findchildcare.pa.gov or contact your Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC). Find your ELRC at www.raiseyourstar.org.

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