GRAND RAPIDS — An initiative facilitated by the Delta Strategy is bringing together area businesses in a cooperative effort to provide effective and qualified child-care options for employees.
Last spring, meetings took place to discuss poverty with a group of community members, many of whom were either experts on the subject or had been touched by it. During the meetings, two questions were asked: What are the barriers that have kept people at the poverty level from financial stability, and what are the pathways or resources that could help or have helped get a person on their feet?
Penny Pestle, director of the Delta Strategy, said one issue that kept coming up over and over was the issue of quality day care. From that point, the group then began to discuss an initiative that would assist poverty-level workers with quality day care.
“A large problem in worker absenteeism is not having sufficient day care. A babysitter gets sick, or they can’t find someone to watch the children. Other times it can be that they don’t have a quality day-care provider they feel comfortable leaving their children with,” said Pestle. “What we want to do is take away the worry of who is going to watch the children and will they be safe.”
From those initial discussions, community members identified six other strategies and then brought together dialogue action groups, one of which focuses on the issue of child care. As a team, the child-care task force is focused on determining the need for child care in a southwest Grand Rapids industrial area and aligning that need with existing resources.
What the Delta Strategy did was provide two facilitators and identified the people who initially needed to be involved. Many businesses and organizations were eager to come to the table, including several businesses in the southwest area, such as Butterball Farms, Michigan Wheel, Hekman Furniture, Vi-Chem Corp., Pridgeon & Clay, Notions Marketing, Benteler Automotive, Leedy Manufacturing and Decc Co. The group also included representatives from the Kent Regional 4C (Community Coordinated Child Care) organization and representatives from the United Methodist House.
Starting in July, the task force, led by two co-facilitators, Dave Medema, president of Medema Consulting, and Gwen Gaines Moffit, principal of Gaines & Associates, met and developed a survey for both employers and employees in the southwest Grand Rapids area. The group then surveyed area employers, who in turn surveyed each of their employees, both in English and Spanish.
“We got wonderful data from these surveys,” Pestle added. “We were able to find out what time of day they needed child care and what specific concerns they had.”
In order to help employees meet those needs, the task force developed a packet of information for employers, containing information that could be shared with employees based on need.
“We were very fortunate to have Kent County 4C working with us because they provided us with options and facilities that we weren’t aware of, and which only strengthened this program,” Medema said.
In the beginning, the idea of in-house child care was discussed and was something Pestle thought might move to the forefront of discussions. However, after a presentation by Byrne Electrical Specialists, a company that had developed an on-site day-care system and who wouldn’t have it any other way, the task force decided on an alternate path.
“We saw what Byrne had done, and while it worked for them, we decided to take a different route,” Medema explained. “To have an on-site program is much more expensive. There is the cost of building the facility, maintaining a constant staff as well as numerous other on-going costs, and for some of the businesses and their employees in our area, that wouldn’t work.”
What the group decided to do instead was combine several solutions. Besides providing employers and employees with a packet of information on where to go for quality child care, the task force also has decided to purchase a number of spots in various child-care facilities to make it easier for emergencies.
“By purchasing a few spots at various day-care centers, if we were to have an employee call in who said they couldn’t make it to work because of a child-care problem, we could make a phone call, find a facility that could watch the child for the day, check with the parent to make sure the location was acceptable, and then the employee would be able to come to work,” said James VanderHulst, vice president of human resources for Butterball Farms Inc.
Because many parents look first to family members to care for their children instead of day-care facilities, the task force has prepared additional information for those employees as well. Included in the packet is information on classes offered by Kent 4C for family member day-care providers.
“Kent 4C will offer classes to educate those members of the family that are taking care of the children as to what quality child care is and what types of things should be done in view of early childhood development to keep the child progressing educationally, so when they do get to preschool they are ready,” said VanderHulst.
“If the family member completes 15 hours of these classes they will be paid $150. We see it as, if we can’t get these employees to put their children in quality child care, then we can still impact the care these children are getting at home by trying to train those who are taking care of them.”