A local nonprofit is beginning a project to link the needs of the community with quality early childhood education and care providers.
Camp Fire West Michigan 4C, a nonprofit that offers professional development opportunities to child care, preschool and youth development staff, is implementing Child Care B.R.I.D.G.E (Build Business, Recognize Providers, Investigate Shared Services, Develop Training, Grow and Support Workforce, Elevate Workforce).
This project focuses on two main goals. The first is assisting and supporting individuals in the high-needs areas of Grand Rapids to become licensed home child care providers and enter the Great Start to Quality rating system, a system led by the Michigan Department of Education that measures 40 program quality indicators within five categories.
The other focus is supporting the early childhood workforce through shared services, professional development, and elevating and recognizing the early childhood workforce.
Some of the professional development includes business training for newly licensed home-based child care providers, coaching for new providers and training scholarships for new and current child care providers.
The program also may help providers bring their homes up to code, as determined by inspections. This assistance could include replacing a furnace or building a fence, for example.
Affordable, quality child care, especially for children in high-need neighborhoods, is essential for more than one reason, said Gayle Orange, Camp Fire CEO.
For one, it helps the workforce, she said. When parents have access to affordable, quality child care, they are better able to work.
She said high-quality child care better enables children to gain the skills — including social and emotional readiness, getting along with other kids and basic knowledge, such as colors and shapes — needed to begin school successfully.
“We certainly don’t want children sitting down in front of the TV,” she said. “We want them to be doing educational activities.”
That licensed care also gives them access to quality nutrition.
“Children need those quality starts,” Orange said.
As reported by the Business Journal in May, children who are not prepared from the beginning face continued educational challenges down the road, and it is difficult for teachers to teach children who are at different levels.
Orange referred to a report released by First Steps Kent last year called “Re:Focus — Analyzing Gaps in Early Childhood Services and Funding in Kent County.” The report found although Kent County has made “significant progress” in ensuring children are ready for kindergarten, many children begin without the tools they need to be successful. Among the major findings:
Fewer than 1 in 5 economically disadvantaged 3-year-old children have access to preschool.
Fewer than half of vulnerable families are getting home-based parenting education and support.
Thousands of Kent County families can’t afford quality child care, which costs an average of $8,000 per year.
She added the availability of child care is low, referencing another study by Chicago-based IFF called “A System for All Children.”
The 2016 study found, in Grand Rapids, there were just over 2,400 children ages 0 to 2 in care, and there were 189 licensed and registered child care slots available. That leaves a service gap of 2,217 children.
She said that means many children likely have inconsistent providers throughout the week, such as different family members, which she said is not good for their development.
Camp Fire is recruiting participants to join the program, focusing on 20 to 30 people per year.
It’s difficult to find people who want to be providers, though, Orange said. She said many of the people who become providers have other motivation for doing so, such as wanting to stay home with their own kids. Many times, once their own children are grown, they discontinue the business.
She hopes the organization’s work can better recognize the workers and help strengthen the child care system overall, particularly surrounding the low rate of pay, while also keeping the service affordable for parents.
This project is funded by a $315,000 two-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek.
Though this project is separate, it aligns with work by First Steps Kent on the five-year early childhood development initiative funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, as reported by the Business Journal in May. Camp Fire plans to work with First Steps during this initiative.
“I can’t think of anything more important than having quality places for … children to be spending their time with people who really care about them and who have been trained to do the work,” she said.