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Sep 23 2022

Why early childhood coalitions exist

Community ImpactFor-ImpactNews

Sherry Grate speaking at a meeting in a conference room

Jenna Anderson, Noble Thrive by 5 |

Sep 23, 2022

Northeast Indiana is home to three counties that have an Early Childhood Coalition, and many more counties are in the process of developing their own. In addition to local county coalitions, the Northeast Indiana Regional Early Childhood Coalition (NEIRECC) has emerged to support them.

So, why are coalitions important to helping us solve child care challenges?

“Coalitions are being formed so that communities can work to solve the childcare crises that are impacting their ability to thrive,” said NEIRECC Coordinator Allie Sutherland. “Childcare is necessary for local economies to thrive, for people to be able to work and support their families, and most importantly to ensure that the children who will be inheriting the community are given, together with their families, the very best start in life.”

We know that child care providers want to advocate for their work, but they are busy giving our children important early learning experiences. Parents understand the difficulties in finding care and paying for care, but they are often struggling to figure out which family or friend can help care for their child when they need to be at work. Employers understand that the lack of child care seats in a community impacts their ability to hire staff, but they are invested in managing their business and trying to find any staff at all.

Coalitions are often able to provide what other stakeholders can’t…a full time person focused on solving child care challenges like capacity, quality, and affordability. Coalitions also involve a number of community collaborators, who work together to find solutions.

“This isn’t an issue only for the parents of young children, this is an issue for employers, for school districts, for our health care providers, for our entire community and so it will take the community coming together to solve it,” said Sutherland.

Noble Thrive by 5 is made up of leaders in non-profits, child cares, preschools, economic development organizations, foundations, K-12 schools, industry, financial institutions and more.

“Simply put…we are better together,” said Jami Hubbard, the director of MSD of Steuben County’s Early Learning Program.

Steuben County is one of the Northeast Indiana counties in the process of forming a coalition. Coalitions, she says, are important for the support they can provide in the community.

“The public needs to be aware that providers are struggling to navigate all areas of program policies and procedures,” said Hubbard. “The list of tasks is long for providers and seems to be ever growing. A coalition could provide support and direction that would benefit all.”

Noble Thrive by 5 has provided support in a variety of ways, including working with the Town of Albion to build a new child care facility, advocating for current providers to receive a living wage, finding ways to help families afford child care, and even helping acquire grant dollars to fund early learning. Hubbard said her organization recently lost out on a grant that could have provided an additional 84 seats in Steuben County.

“Had Steuben County had a coalition and were able to commission for extra seats as a county (not just for my program, but for other programs), we would have likely gone to the top of the pile in terms of a successful application request because we would have been serving many more programs and families,” said Hubbard.

Ambassador Enterprises (AE) has been a true catalyst in the work of early learning. AE engages with leaders and organizations committed to creating a lasting, positive impact on people and communities.

In the fall of 2021, the Community Impact Investment team of Ambassador Enterprises partnered with Gensyn Design to convene a collaborative network of early learning professionals from across northeast Indiana. Leaders were empowered to envision how they could impact the entire region and build better communities that support early childhood development and care.

“These strategic conversations catalyzed the development of a regional child care coalition addressing accessibility, affordability, and quality of child care,” said Dr. Sherry Grate, vice president of Community Impact Investing for Ambassador Enterprises. “Aligning regional efforts focusing on the coalition’s mission of “Connecting Our Communities to Advance Early Learning,” provides a framework and foundation of support for building sustainable early childhood coalitions across the 11 counties in northeast Indiana. Together, we will collaborate, advocate, and innovate to improve early childhood outcomes, building better communities.”

It truly comes down to the collaborative work of a coalition, and often the dedication of a paid, full-time coordinator to solve child care challenges.

“Our communities are strong because we know that it is important to reach out and help a neighbor, that often things are best solved by the people who know the community and are experiencing the challenges,” said Sutherland. “Those in early childhood know the lack of quality, affordable care is a complicated issue and there is not one solution that will allow families to afford and find quality spaces. There will need to be many different innovative solutions and no one person or agency will be able to accomplish this. Solving the child care crisis takes strong relationships, coordination, and leadership, and solutions will be sustainable when communities work together.”

Hubbard summed it up nicely when she said, “Coalitions will allow us to broadcast the message that an investment in early education impacts all areas of society, and it is not only important, but vital to the overall health and well-being of our communities.”

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