DCF Fall 2020 School Year Guidance for the
Early Care and Education Community

Cartoon image of families

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) recognizes this is a challenging time for child care providers, parents, and local education agencies (LEAs) as they attempt to navigate the upcoming school year during the COVID-19 pandemic. DCF and the Department of Public Instruction strongly recommend collaboration between child care providers and LEAs/schools to find ways to meet family needs. We have produced a series of guidance documents to help child care providers, LEAs and parents navigate the reopening of school this fall.

See below for information about child care regulation, YoungStar, Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy, and more.

We will continue to update this webpage with additional guidance and resources, and we encourage you to check back frequently for the most up-to date-information.

Providers and Local Education Agencies/School Districts

Child Care Regulation Guidance and Resources

DCF recognizes there will be vast differences in learning environments for school-age children this fall in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. DCF has and will continue to work with child care programs and collaborating LEAs/school districts to meet the needs in their communities. DCF staff have the ability to work with current child care providers to help address any needs, such as amending their license or relocating, and to work with new child care providers to expedite the initial licensing process in order for programs to open as quickly and safely as possible. 

Exception Requests

Per DCF administrative rules, licensees may request exceptions to any rule requirements. Requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the regional licensing specialist and their supervisor, in accordance with the DCF exception review process. A written exception request will need to be submitted.

Please contact your licensor as soon as possible if you have any questions or for more information about making any changes to your current program (for example, location changes, licensed hours, or exception requests).

Note: DCF has received several inquiries about capacity exceptions for Licensed Family Childcare Providers. A decision on those requests is pending. The final decision will be sent out in future correspondence  as soon as a decision is finalized.

YoungStar Guidance and Resources

To align with American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that encourage high-quality, safe, and in-person learning experiences for school-age children this fall, schools can look to community-based early education/child care and school-age care programs to offer support. Community child care programs are valuable partners that may be able to offer the space, staff, and ability to share resources that would allow for safer, smaller, and consistent groups of children to receive more opportunities for in-person instruction and other school-based supports (e.g. food service, supports around Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), supports for multilingual children). Child care and/or school-age care programs know and understand your community and the children within it. Additionally, since many community child care and/or school-age care programs have remained open during the pandemic, they have already worked through the process of altering their programming and space, and can offer some learned experience around strategies that keep group sizes small, children safe, and families at work.

Child Care Subsidy Guidance and Resources

For the 2020-2021 school year, parents can receive child care authorizations during the day when school is delivered virtually and child care is needed for parents to participate in their approved activity. This change means that school-age children could potentially receive full time authorizations during the day. Parents may receive authorizations even if they are working from home; however, they must be participating in their approved activity during the times when care is needed. If both in-person instruction and virtual instruction are available and the parent chooses to have their child participate virtually, they can receive a child care authorization for the time when their child is participating in class virtually at the child care provider location and the parent needs child care to participate in their approved activity. Parents cannot receive authorizations for time when the child is physically attending school for in-person instruction. Parents can also not receive authorizations for time when the child is attending class virtually while at home or time when the parent is not participating in their approved activity.

Child care providers must ensure that they do not provide any instructional services that supplant or duplicate the academic program of any public or private school. This means that providers cannot provide the main instruction, but may assist with school work as they would any other homework.

Families

As Wisconsin reopens and heads back to work, families are starting to assess their child care needs. This information has been developed to help families navigate making decisions around enrolling their child in a group or family child care program, finding safe, high-quality care, and staying safe in the months ahead. The information is also available as a two-page handout and an 11 by 17-inch poster.

Am I ready to consider out-of-home care for my child?

The first step is determining whether or not your family is physically and emotionally ready to have your child back in a group or family child care setting. Questions you should consider include:

I am ready to find a child care program! How will they keep my child safe?

Every child care program is required to have health and safety measures in place and an emergency plan. While interviewing child care programs, questions you should ask, and expected responses, include:

  • How many teachers/caregivers and children will be interacting with my child?
    • Expect small groups and limited mixing among groups
  • How is the environment prepared to promote social distancing?
    • Expect increased spacing, one or two children per activity, distance during nap time and meals, no activities that may harbor or increase the spread of germs, and outdoor activities to the extent feasible
  • What safety procedures are in place to detect and prevent illness?
    • Expect to drop off and pick up children outdoors, family members to wear masks and maintain social distance or stay in car, staff to evaluate and record data about children’s health and their own upon arrival and throughout the day
    • Expect routine hand washing, possible use of gloves and/or masks for adults and children over the age of two
  • What cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be followed?
    • Expect very frequent cleaning and sanitization
  • How will food be prepared and served to ensure safety?
    • Expect staff to prepare and/or distribute separate meals to each child in a sanitary manner
  • How will the program communicate any health and safety issues or concerns with me?
    • Expect regular updates that are accessible to parents and families

My child is enrolled in care. How should we prepare to return?

If your child has been enrolled in care before, things may look and feel different. Discuss and plan for the following:

  • Assure your child that their teachers/caregivers and friends will be there to play and learn as always. Remind them you will come get them when it’s time to go home!
  • Changes will be happening; be clear with your child about what to expect. Some examples of what might be different include:
    • Changes to drop-off and pick-up protocols, including temperature checks
    • Removal of shoes from home and no backpacks or other items from home allowed
    • More frequent hand washing
    • Possible wearing of masks or gloves

What might the future look like as we continue to fight COVID-19?

It is everyone’s responsibility to help keep our communities safe and healthy. As we continue to navigate this public health emergency, prepare for the following possibilities:

  • Keep your child at home if they are sick with any illness.
    • Report symptoms to the child care program.
    • Contact your health care provider for advice on when it is safe to return to child care.
  • Understand your child care program’s plan for community spread of illness and/or confirmed case exposure.
  • Your child’s child care program may temporarily close.
    • Confirm payment expectations for families in the event of a closure or extended absence.
    • Talk with your employer about sick leave and telework options if you need to stay home with your child. Consider having a back-up child care plan.

If my child isn't in care, do I need to continue to pay? Will I lose my spot?

Families need to follow the individual contracts with their child care providers. If, under existing contracts, families have the right to cancel services and/or obtain a refund of any tuition they have already paid, providers should honor those rights. In cases where families wish to maintain a spot in a child care program, some providers may require families to continue paying tuition even while the program is closed. Child care providers and families are encouraged to work together to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

Child Care Subsidy Guidance and Resources

For the 2020-2021 school year, parents can receive child care subsidy for times during the day when school is delivered virtually and child care is needed for parents to participate in their approved activity. This includes times when the parent must work from home. However, parents cannot receive subsidy during times when children physically attend school for in-person instruction or when instruction is provided at home or another location other than the child care provider location. If both in-person instruction and virtual instruction are available and the parent chooses to have their child participate virtually, they can receive subsidy for the time when their child is participating in class virtually at the child care provider location and child care is needed for the parent to participate in their approved activity. The child care provider must be regulated and participating in YoungStar in order to receive an authorization.

Parents who are currently receiving Wisconsin Shares should contact their local agency or go to the Parent Portal if changes are needed for existing authorizations.

Parents who are not currently receiving Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy can visit the Wisconsin Shares home page for more information about the application and authorization process. The following is a brief summary of the process for parents to apply and see if they are eligible for child care benefits.

  1. Apply for Wisconsin Shares. There are a few ways to complete an application:
  1. After submitting an application, parents need to complete an eligibility interview with the local Wisconsin Shares agency. Eligibility is based on many factors, including:
  • Income
  • Approved activity (work, education, or participation in a TANF program)
  • Cooperation with Child Support
  1. Parents will receive a notice in the mail stating if they are eligible or not eligible. If the parent is determined eligible, they must then select a child care provider and make sure they have a slot available if the child is not already attending a child care center.
  2. Once the parent has selected a provider, they must contact the local Wisconsin Shares agency to request an authorization for child care subsidy. In Milwaukee County, parents will need to contact Milwaukee Early Care Administration (MECA) for authorizations. Please visit the MECA Parent web page for resources and contact information specific to Milwaukee County.

An EBT card will be mailed to the parent after the authorization has been created. Subsidy funds are loaded onto the parent’s card on the first of each month or overnight if the parent receives a new authorization during the month.

Frequently Asked Questions

My school-aged child is attending school virtually. Can I receive a Wisconsin Shares Authorization to help pay for child care while I am working?

Yes – you may be able to receive Wisconsin Shares. Contact your local agency for more information and to discuss your eligibility. Note that all other eligibility rules remain in effect.

Is my provider eligible to receive Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments?

To receive Wisconsin Shares payments, providers must be:

  • Regulated
  • Participating in the YoungStar quality rating and improvement system
  • Have a contract with our Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT) card vendor

My school-aged child is attending school in person. Can I receive a Wisconsin Shares Authorization to help pay for child care?

If your child is attending school in person, you are not eligible for a Wisconsin Shares authorization during the school day. You may be able to receive an authorization for child care outside of the school day while you are participating in your approved activity.  

I already have an authorization for August, but it does not include hours to cover when I am working and my child is attending school virtually. Can I get an increase in my authorization?

Contact your local agency or visit the Parent Portal to request changes to your authorization.

I am a child care provider, and I noticed that my slot information is not correct in the Available Child Care Map.

Please update your information in the Provider Portal to reflect your current availability and slot information.

I would like to request an exception to a rule requirement for my child care program. What should I do?

Contact your licensor as soon as possible to discuss your plans. Your licensor will provide information on next steps, and you may need to submit an Exception Request form.

Note: DCF has received several inquiries about capacity exceptions for Licensed Family Child Care Providers.  A decision on those requests is pending. The final decision will be sent out in future correspondence within one week.

Our program is operating at capacity, but we would like to open an additional location to serve school-age children. What is the process?

Determine your additional location. Contact your regional licensing specialist to discuss your plans and to request application materials and to discuss a time line. DCF staff are prepared to work with existing providers to expedite applications for additional locations in an attempt to get programs operational by the start of the school year.

We have some directors that are overseeing four part-day programs now, that during this time will need to be full-time programs, how will we address that?

Contact your licensing specialist to discuss the possibility of an exception.

Resources