Because “small lives get bigger”, our mission at WECA is to advance positive change for children by focusing on the professionals who provide child care for well over 70% of Wisconsin’s children. We truly believe that quality early care and education is fundamental to creating a better world. Our work to support this sector and the children and families who intersect with it has always been comprehensive. During the pandemic, WECA’s staff stepped up to support Wisconsin’s system of early care and education in unprecedented ways.
COVID-19 has exasperated the already challenging circumstances for the child care industry in Wisconsin. Already programs were under–resourced, and many were struggling to stay in business. Before the pandemic, over 50% of Wisconsin citizens lived in what was called a “child care desert.” This means that there were three or more children for every one regulated child care seat. The average monthly cost to safely care for and educate young children have skyrocketed due to increased disinfecting and cleaning measures, fewer children in a classroom, less mixing of children and staff, among countless other health and safety precautions. Data collected from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Center for American Progress shows 4.5 MILLION child care slots are at risk of disappearing nationally. We know that without a significant federal investment, this industry may not fully recover, and the economy bolstered by working parents will not bounce back either. WECA staff have been working harder than ever to build sustainability and increase wellbeing in this sector through our programs and support. The First Five Years Fund estimates that Wisconsin could lose 41,357 child care slots through the pandemic and we are dedicating our work to that proving them wrong.
Here is a snapshot of how WECA continues to support early care and education and its workforce during these unprecedented, challenging times:
- In early March, WECA created a COVID-19 resource webpage which provides vetted, timely resources for child care professionals, families and children. As the pandemic has evolved, this site has become a landing page for many providers in the state and other states across the country.
- WECA staff collaborated with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and Supporting Families Together Association in pairing child care with families of essential workers in their homes.
- WECA developed a robust and comprehensive 25+ page Reopening Guidebook based on best practices in early care and education that is now lifted up as best practice guidance through many county public health departments and was circulated to programs nationwide. This guidebook was made available in English and Spanish.
- WECA secured $350,000 in generous funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Home Grown Emergency Fund to provide stabilization grants to 140 providers in Milwaukee.
- WECA led an online letter campaign calling for the Wisconsin Legislature to support the early care and education workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic that included more than 2,100 signatures.
- WECA has offered extensive mentoring and coaching through its Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN). While help was concentrated to child care programs enrolled in this service in Vernon, Monroe, Dane, and Milwaukee Counties, many providers across the state found comfort in additional support from WECA staff. Types of support included:
- Sharing best practices in providing safe and responsive care to young children during the pandemic.
- Stacking federal, state, and local financial resources (grants and forgiveness loans).
- Collaborating with child care programs’ administrators, leaders, and boards of directors in navigating the evolving licensing requirements, health and safety protocols for staff, children, and families, among countless other considerations.
- Long-term financial planning and reimagining of programming to include school–age children.
- Onboarding technology systems and necessary computer hardware to connect virtually with staff, families, and other providers.
- Offering support through online meetups with mental health professionals.
- WECA is expanding its Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN) across SW Wisconsin through a Preschool Development Grant provided by the Department of Children and Families. This expansion includes the following counties: Richland, Crawford, Grant, Iowa, Lafayette, and Green. In addition, WECA will be collaborating with a cooperative model in Jackson County to provide shared services to child care providers in this locale as well.
- WECA has developed and launched a two-part Webinar Series for Wisconsin child care providers (available in English and Spanish) on “Reopening During Times of COVID-19” that focused on the foundational, safety, and operational considerations:
- WECA has been able to secure 265 gallons of hand sanitizer, no touch thermometers, and other critical supplies and have delivered to more than 100 child care programs throughout the state.
- Paula Drew, Co-Director of WEESSN, launched a new blog series that explores the challenges of the early care and education workforce during COVID–19:
- We have helped to create awareness and build momentum for the issues in early childhood education as evidenced by the following examples:
- Child care safety must be a priority – Abbi Kruse, Executive Director, The Playing Field (Wisconsin State Journal).
- Child care providers seek hazard pay, health care coverage as they serve children of essential workers during COVID-19 pandemic (Green Bay Press Gazette).
- The Workforce Behind the Workforce: Child Care Providers in the Coronavirus Pandemic (Center for American Progress).
- Child care providers concerned with stability (Oshkosh Herald, page 4).
- Coronavirus: Child care Providers Adjust During Pandemic (WPR Interview).
- Organizations supporting child care, addiction recovery among 2020 Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse grant recipients (La Crosse Tribune).
- Please Remember Wisconsin’s Child Care Programs (The Cap Times).
- Wisconsin Daycare Crisis (WISN Milwaukee Interview with Ruth Schmidt, WECA’s executive director).
- Milwaukee health officials give guidance on child care safety protocols amid pandemic (CBS 58 – WDJT Milwaukee).
- WECA awarded approximately 115 REWARD plus stipends, totaling over $140,000 to providers working in child care programs in Milwaukee’s 53206 neighborhood.
- WECA continued to support family child care providers as a CACFP Food Program Sponsor, ensuring programs had timely information on new or changing requirements during the pandemic, including how to be able to still claim meals provided to families offsite, if a program was closed, to ensure food insecurity was being addressed.
- T.E.A.C.H. staff continued supporting scholarship recipients through many changes as the pandemic evolved. As college classes were moved online, T.E.A.C.H. recipients had to quickly pivot to a new way of learning. Their work also had to be adjusted as the early childhood field saw many changes, including a reduction in enrollment and changes to safety procedures. A survey was distributed to all current T.E.A.C.H. recipients to help counselors asses the needs of their recipients during COVID-19 and connect them to appropriate resources, including access to food, access to the internet, computer needs, unemployment, professional development, and other tips on navigating the new policies related to early childhood.
- Due to the financial hardships that COVID-19 has placed on the early childhood field, T.E.A.C.H. advocated for and received approval to have both scholarship recipients and sponsoring centers pay a smaller portion of tuition costs. These changes will go into effect in the Fall of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced how essential the work of early childhood educators is not only to young children, but to their families and communities as well. It is clear that child care is the workforce behind all others. Child care is also the key to economic recovery and the backbone to healthy, thriving communities. Being a member of WECA and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) means you are contributing to a stronger, more effective, and unified voice speaking up for early childhood educators, children, and families.
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