Update to our Partners during COVID-19

Dear Partners, 

Good health is a team effort. During this unprecedented time, First Steps Kent is teaming up with our many community partners to continue to support the health of Kent County’s youngest children and their families.

First Steps Kent, as an established systems organization, was built for this type of situation. After years of working with cross-sector partners to align, convene, and help to eliminate silos in the work, we see that we have the ability to move in and help in this type of public health crisis. We have established trusted relationships with dozens of partners focused on providing resources and services to families with very young children. We use an intentional model of working together and sharing information for the purpose of solving a complex problem.

An urgent priority is ensuring high-quality child care for the children of essential workers. As COVID-19 numbers began to rise and schools were ordered to close, it was clear there would be a need for additional child care slots. We used our network to assess and activate a crisis group including Kent ISD, ELNC, Head Start, KConnect, Campfire West Michigan 4C, Great Start Collaborative, Great Start to Quality, and Talent 2025.

We sent out a survey to our network of in-home and center-based child care providers to ask them what their needs are, what slots are available, and what we can do to elevate their voice. After the executive order to expand child care for the frontline workers, it was more urgent that we coordinate this group’s ability to respond.

After a virtual convening of the crisis group, each organization had direction and got to work. Our four priorities are:

  • Tracking child care capacity and navigating essential workforce families to child care slots,
  • Tracking child care provider needs,
  • Connecting providers to resources to meet their needs, and
  • Tracking and responding to family needs that arise as a result of children not being in child care and early learning classrooms.

Another focus for First Steps Kent right now is assisting organizations that receive Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage funding so that their services are available both during the COVID-19 crisis and into the future. Back in January, it was announced that 16 organizations were awarded $7.6 million of millage funds to provide new or expanded early childhood services. As the administrator of those funds, First Steps Kent has worked with Kent County staff to continue funding for these vital programs as they find innovative ways to reach and support families now, while also ramping up their in-person services that will begin again once it is safe to do so.

Many of the programs funded by Ready by Five have moved to a virtual model, providing support and education to families through video and phone home visits. Ready by Five Outreach and Navigation services continue and are available through Family Futures, Family Promise, Health Net of West Michigan, and Help Me Grow. Much of their current focus is on meeting immediate, essential needs of families throughout our community.

We know you are all working tirelessly on behalf of families who need it most. We want to thank you for being part of this vital team. Now, more than ever we need to make sure we have a strong system of support for children and families in Kent County. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or thoughts.

Annemarie T. Valdez
President & CEO
First Steps Kent