Shared Services: Child Care Collaboration
First Steps Kent and our partners are once again looking to the future to build back-end support to help child care providers sustain and grow their businesses. In 2019, First Steps Kent received a three-year grant to launch a Shared Services pilot project to coordinate services and support for child care centers and family homes in Kent County. The expenses and time associated with running a child care business force many providers out of the industry. Easing those burdens can help stabilize the pool of providers, which gives families more options.
Planning work for the Kent Shared Services Pilot Project came to a sudden halt in March 2020, as we pivoted from developing a Shared Services model to helping child care providers survive the pandemic. We focused on getting them paper products, cleaning essentials, food, and other supplies for the children who remained in their care.
Over the last year, Shared Services was able to shift from response mode back to planning mode. Kent County has nearly 650 providers, and through the Shared Services work, we have engaged with more than half of them – including centers, group homes, and family homes.
Needs changed for providers after the initial fall-out from the pandemic. To address this, Shared Services developed a Technical Assistance Model of Support designed to provide business assistance and resources for providers. This included working with community partners and consultants to address key needs related to tax preparation, technology support, human resources, and help with applying for loans and grants. As a part of this model, Shared Services offered guidance on equitable practices such as translating documents, providing interpretation during presentations, and elevating provider voice in all areas of the decision-making process.
First Steps Kent was asked by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office to participate in a statewide task force around the child care stabilization grants. Shared Services worked closely with the Michigan Early Childhood Collaborative and our local Great Start to Quality (GSQ) Kent Resource Center to support child care providers with grant applications. Kent County had more than 90 percent participation in grant applications, which can be attributed to the trust and collaboration among Kent County providers and partners.
The pandemic illuminated a fragile and broken child care system, but it also brought momentum to building a better, more sustainable child care system. First Steps Kent is part of this recovery, and we are grateful for the increased awareness of the need for change, and the correlating influx of stimulus dollars set aside to sustain and re-imagine child care.
"I feel so lucky! I was able to use the recent funds to create “kits” for family engagement and to extend learning to home. Each enrolled family received paints, brushes, and developmentally appropriate toys...Kent County children are blessed to have this support, and licensed in-home child care providers appreciate all of your focused support for our programs." -Dana Hokanson, In-Home Child Care Provider