Florida offers free child care as part of coronavirus response

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The state of Florida will now offer free child care to families of first responders and health care workers as the state continues to feel the effects of COVID-19.

Work doesn’t stop for health care workers, caregivers, firefighters and police officers, even during a pandemic. But while they work to keep the community safe and healthy, who is watching their kids?

“The majority of the school day cares, they’re closed in Jacksonville,” said Dr. Cynthia Smith, CEO of Minds of the Future Academy on Jacksonville’s north side.

To help deal with that issue, the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning, along with local early learning coalitions throughout the state, is now offering these families free child care.

“I did not close because probably 25 percent of my student population, their parents are first responders or health care workers. It wouldn’t be benefiting to them if I close because they wouldn’t have anywhere to send their child or children,” said Smith.

Eligible families can apply online. Their children have to be under the age of 13.

“My suggestion to parents that are health care workers and first responders is that even if you do not utilize child care services every day, I would still get the form completed because it gives you an option for 90 days to have free child care services,” Smith explained. That’s 90 days that first responders have one less worry and expense – a priceless gift in this stressful time.

Parents can apply using the child care application and authorization form provided by their employer. They can then apply through the family portal at the Office of Early Learning website. Other states have also made similar moves as a way of providing support to those first responders and health care workers.