Exploration of child care, early childhood education and more continues
Photo by Ryan Fields on Unsplash

Exploration of child care, early childhood education and more continues

In our ongoing coverage of the shortage of child care in the community, WTIP shared a report on the brainstorming that took place during the Child Care Solutions for Cook County Town Hall on March 14. There was some interesting discussion at the online gathering and WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with Nancie Deming, one of the organizers of the town hall, to learn more.

Deming is the project leader and navigator of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Community Hub. She is also the team leader of the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition that organized the town hall.

One of WTIP’s first questions is just what is the Community Hub? Deming explains that the Community Navigation Hub Model was actually put forward as a collaboration between the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Education. The agencies shared information on a grant opportunity and Deming said she and her colleague, Rachel Liechty at School District 166 applied for, and received a navigation grant.

Deming said the grant covers work in all of Cook County and Grand Portage. The purpose of the navigation grant is actually to connect young families to services, focusing on prenatal to kindergarten ages.

Deming acknowledges that “services” is a broad term and further explained that the navigation hub is looking at specific needs in the community. She said it could mean connecting families to housing resources, health care, social services, and more.

She said there are services that are not available to Cook County families, such as child care and that is something else she is working on as a community navigator. She said an early childhood needs assessment completed by Wilder Research identified the number one need for parents—and the business community where those parents work—is child care.

Deming said, “Honestly, it wasn’t a huge surprise to any of the stakeholders in our county that yes, childcare is an issue here.”

Deming said the second issue identified was parental support. She said there are services for families, things such as the local Early Childhood Family Education program, which is available for families at no cost. But she said they heard that families are not aware of that program. Deming said her work will be to ensure that community members can find information on what is available.

Nearly 60 people logged in for the community town hall. WTIP asked Deming if she was surprised by the community interest? Deming said she wasn’t surprised as she knew there was a great deal of interest in child care. But she added, “I was very gratified that we did have that many.”

She said the more voices at the table the better.

During the town hall, there were breakout sessions for brainstorming. Participants were asked to join a Zoom room on one of four topics related to child care: workforce; community education and partnerships; financial and incentives; or facilities. There seemed to be an overlap of ideas from the different groups.

One topic considered was the shortage of workers in the child care field. There were suggestions on ways to make this challenging job easier, such as a pool of substitutes for daycare providers and a mentor program for people thinking of opening a daycare. WTIP asked Deming for her thoughts on those ideas.

Deming said she was very excited about the ideas brought forward and said some of the suggestions are ideas the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition and the clinic’s Community Hub staff have been talking about. She said there are programs that can help someone become a child care provider or help a substitute find a way to help out with child care or preschool programs. The problem is people don’t know where to start. said Deming.

And for someone currently running a daycare program, they don’t have time to travel for training and these busy providers have difficulty keeping up with the regulations governing daycare operations.

That is where the Community Childhood Hub comes in, said Deming.

At the town hall meeting, there was a suggestion of involving volunteers, such as high school students or retirees, to spend time at child care facilities, doing things like leading games or reading to children to assist child care providers. That seems like a relatively easy thing to do, but it would take some sort of coordination. Deming agreed that it would take some coordination, but said there is a great group of people who are very passionate and interested in increasing all of these services.

She said there are actually some high school students who volunteer in the preschool program at School District 166 now. She said that was fairly easy, as the students and children are in the same building. But she said the Early Childhood Coalition plans to talk to the school district about setting up a service-learning model in which students could get academic credit to work in child care.

In addition to high school students, Deming said organizers would like to see people who have time to help a daycare—as a guest speaker, to read to children, or oversee a fun educational enrichment project—come forward. She said it is just a matter of connecting with the right person. And, Deming said that is some of what she will be doing. She encourages people to reach out to her to learn more.

In the town hall group that focused on facilities, there was talk of actually constructing a large daycare center, possibly on some tax-forfeit land owned by Cook County. WTIP asked Deming if she thought something like that was feasible.

Deming became very animated and said yes, she does think that is feasible. In fact, she said, “That’s actually kind of our big picture—a grand plan that we would love to see,” she said, adding with a laugh, “We would eventually love to see.. you know, a millionaire who was willing to just invest and help us build the building.

“We’d love to see an Early Childhood and Family Development Center. A place where it’s just kind of almost a one-stop shop, even in the same building just makes it easier for families, not to run all over town to get the things they need for their children,” she said.

However, Deming said there are many different models that could be developed to alleviate the child care shortage in the community.  The Clinic Community Hub and the Early Childhood Coalition will work to decide on the best course of action.

Deming said, “I think the thing is we need to do as a committee and as a community is to be able to say, ‘What do we want that to look like?’ ‘What are the possibilities?’ So if we get that big picture plan, then it’ll be easier for us to be able to go to funders or look at grants to see how can we make this happen.”

Regarding those ideas at the community town hall, the Early Childhood Coalition will meet with another partner in this effort, First Children’s Finance, on April 8 to get a summary of the conversations and start to work on prioritizing ideas.

As that work continues, anyone who would like more information on the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Community Hub or the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition can contact Deming at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic at (218) 877-8273 or by email to: ndeming@sawtoothmountainclinic.org.

Listen to the conversation about all this below.