Training programs in southeastern Minnesota are improving the quality of day-care programs, said Patrick Gannon, executive director of Child Care Resource and Referral, a nonprofit organization that serves as a resource for parents, child-care providers and community members.
"With the help of the Rochester Area Foundation, the First Steps Initiative will assure that child-care workers in Olmsted County receive significantly more training" in areas such as early literacy, Gannon said. "I would definitely say that that's going to pay dividends.
Those dividends will be both short-term, showing up at the early elementary level, and likely even long-term, impacting children's entire lives and their contributions to the workforce, he said.
Research shows that investments in the early years pay off in skills later in life and in the stability of the workforce, he said.
Not only that, but CCRR has received an Early Head Start grant to serve children from birth through age 3. That $1.3 million federal grant will help it serve 120 children in that age group, as well as an additional 40 4-year-olds.
Overall, the number of children served in Olmsted County increased in early February from 286 to 430, Gannon said. The addition of the Head Start program serving birth through age 3 will help to fill a gap in services for 2- to 3-year-olds, he said.
As a child-care provider and president of Family Child Care Inc., Jackie Harrington echoes Gannon's thoughts concerning the importance of quality care during those early years. FCCI is an association of licensed family child-care providers dedicated to providing high quality child care, education, resources and support.
Harrington said that during her 10 years of providing day care in Rochester, she has seen an ever growing awareness of the importance of care from birth to age 5. She said that time period sets the stage for a child's future and ensures that a child is school ready.
She also spoke highly of the CCRR network that offers opportunities for providers to take advantage of classes on child-care issues. Continuing growth and professional development is a big emphasis right now, she said.
As for day-care demand, there seem to be more vacancies in day-care homes and centers, but "it's hard to say exactly why," Gannon said. It's possible that among two-earner households, one may not be working, or may be working fewer hours, he said. There also may have been laid-off workers who decided to go into day care to make ends meet.
Gannon noted that CCRR also manages the Child Care Assistance program for low income families. "We have 257 (families) on the waiting list and it's growing all the time," Gannon said.
The program, he explained, is for low income working people who can't afford the full cost of child care. Those 257 families are eligible for assistance, but due to decreased funding from the state, they can't be served at this time.
"That makes it challenging for employees to get to work and stay at work," he said. "Child Care Assistance can be the only public assistance that someone may get," because they are working and not eligible for welfare, or other programs, he said.
And some parents, told they'll be on a waiting list for up to two years, may decide against even applying, he said.