A COVID-19 response fund is giving more than $1 million to organizations that provide child care for the children of Indianapolis health care workers and first responders.

“As the burdens on our health care workers and first responders increase, they need more and more support for their families,” said Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana, which is managing the fund. “As child care centers and schools have closed, it’s getting harder and harder for them to have that support.”

Murtlow added, “This is an emergency situation. These needs are pretty urgent.”

Care for about a hundred children ages 5-12 will be provided by the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis and AYS, which regularly offers before and after school care and programs during school breaks. In addition, Early Learning Indiana, which runs several daycare and preschool sites, has hundreds of available seats for children under 5. If there’s demand from families, the organizations will increase the number of spots, said Chrystal Struben, president and CEO of AYS.

AYS will open a child care site at the Broad Ripple High School building and the YMCA will provide care at its existing facilities, Struben said. Indianapolis Public Schools is also partnering with AYS to provide assistance with food and nursing for children in the organization’s care.

In accordance with social-distancing standards, AYS will limit its programming to 50 children at each site and, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will break up students into groups of 10.

The program will offer activities, such as board games, outdoor play, and time in the gym. It will also have internet access, and students will have time to complete remote schoolwork, Struben said.

Spots will be available for the children of first responders and health care workers, but Struben said AYS hopes to expand the program to serve other families who need child care. “The city has asked us to really prioritize first responders and health workers, so we are doing that first because we think that’s in the best interest of the community,” she said.

First responders will get a discounted rate, according to a press release from Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office.

Early Learning Indiana has not shut down its regular child care, said CEO and President Maureen Weber. But the organization has asked families to use alternative care if they are able. As a result, Early Learning has many short-term spots for the children of first responders and medical workers.

What’s still unclear, however, is just how much demand there will be. Chalkbeat reported last week that although the state is urging child care providers to stay open amid the coronavirus crisis, some are seeing dwindling interest from parents.

“It’s the million-dollar question, and it’s hard to get a handle on it,” Weber said. “We are confident that there is substantial need. But we are not yet able to quantify the exact amount of it.”

Child care for essential workers is one of the top priorities of the United Way of Central Indiana’s new $17.8 million COVID-19 response fund. The first round of grants from the fund, announced Tuesday, totaled more than $7 million to be distributed among 46 community organizations in Central Indiana. More than $1 million of that went to child care providers, including $400,000 for YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, $400,000 for AYS, and $250,000 for Early Learning Indiana.

The fund is supported by the Lilly Endowment, Central Indiana Community Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, and United Way of Central Indiana.

(Lilly Endowment, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, and Central Indiana Community Foundation also support Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

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