No light at the end of the tunnel: What a summer camps shortage means for working moms

Yelena Goren says she checks the COVID-19 case count daily, looking for signs that the novel coronavirus pandemic is waning. But the light at the end of the tunnel has been hard to spot, she says.

“I’m just not seeing it right now.”

Since the beginning of the health emergency, the Richmond Hill, Ont.-based disability and employment lawyer has been managing her practice from home and simultaneously looking after her three children, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes, a condition that can lead to more severe symptoms of COVID-19.

For that reason, the family has been in strict self-isolation, according to Goren.

With her husband working full time, Goren says she is working evenings and weekends on her current caseload but hasn’t been able to take on any new clients, even as her competitors have been ramping up their marketing.

“This is the time to get the disability and employment files because so many people have been laid off,” she says.

But without a viable child-care option for her children this summer, Goren says she will likely have to stay in that holding pattern for several more months.

I was hoping they were going to go to camp over the summer,” she says. But with the virus still circulating, she adds, “I think it’s still too risky for us to consider.”

Many provincial governments across Canada are still evaluating whether to let summer camps open this summer and how. But no matter what they decide, many parents will likely find that camp is not an option this year.

Ontario, for one, has already announced the decision to cancel all overnight camps. But regardless of provincial rules, some camp operators have already given up on holding planned activities this summer, says Martha Friendly, a Toronto-based child-care expert who runs The Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

Also, the camps that do run may have fewer spots available due to physical distancing and heightened hygiene requirements, Friendly says.

Then there’s the question of whether families will feel it’s safe to send their children to camp. Summer camps aren’t subject to the strict provincial regulations that govern child-care centres, Friendly notes.

Friendly suggests that parents check their camp operator’s COVID-19 measures against the guidelines provinces have put in place for child-care centres. Even in places like Ontario, which has yet to reopen daycare and other child-care services, there are rules in places for centres that look after the children of essential workers, Friendly notes.

For Jacinda David, summer camp is a double conundrum. Not only is the mother of three wondering what to do with her children as the warm season approaches, but she is also waiting to know whether she’ll be able to operate her very own day camps.

Nanny shares, with two families pooling resources to hire a single nanny to watch their kids, is a way to bring down costs, says Friendly. Another option is looking for early childhood education students who may be available for summer work, she adds.

But child-care backups are out of reach financially for many parents, Friendly notes.

I’m very concerned about lower-income families just having no options,” she says.

The likely dearth of summer camps will also disproportionately impact women, Friendly adds.

While there are plenty of fathers who are also currently juggling work, child care and house chores, “women still are more responsible for making arrangements for their children,” she says.

For some families, it’s financial considerations dictating that women take on more of the child care.

Allison Venditti says it “didn’t feel like much of a choice” in her case.

While Venditti’s husband is still working full time, the mother of three says demand for her business has dropped.

Venditti, who runs Careerlove, a career coaching service for parents, calls herself “a huge advocate for working moms.”

But, she says,it’s hard for me to make the argument that I want to keep working full tilt.”

Venditti and her husband had to make decisions at the start of the lockdown about who would work when and who’d take care of the children. At the time, before the government announced various support programs for small business, the couple decided Venditti’s husband would keep up a regular work week and she would work evenings and weekends.

Many others faced similar choices, adds Venditti, who also runs the Facebook group Moms at Work.

There’s a deep discussion on many online groups about women’s careers being sidetracked,” she says.

But Venditti doesn’t see a solution for her family in the near term.

Sending her children to camps or her two-year-old to daycare feels “very uncomfortable,” she says, especially since her youngest child has a medical condition.

Hiring a babysitter or nanny on the family’s reduced income isn’t possible either, she adds.

“For people who rely on two incomes, the financial stress is crippling.”

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