As we continue to live in the aftershocks of a global pandemic, we know more about the effects these cloudy days have had on our youngest children and their families.
Parents are struggling with mental health, job loss, finding and affording quality child care, isolation, anxiety, hunger, and homelessness. These struggles are creating unimaginable outcomes. Despite these feelings of heaviness and uncertainty, First Steps Kent is spending time listening and working to advance equity for children. This is a real opportunity to improve outcomes. We will keep moving forward so that families have hope. Read the full letter on page 3 of the impact report - download below.
First Steps Kent's collective impact work focuses on three areas that will ensure every child in Kent County is healthy and ready for kindergarten. Progress in each is measured by an indicator that helps us know if we are advancing the work at a community level. Each indicator is aligned with initiatives throughout Michigan and across the country.
One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it prompted policy changes that benefit young children and their families. This is particularly true in the area of child care, where the fragility of the system was illuminated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Babies’ brains are wired to notice differences and similarities in people – how they look and how they talk. As young children get a little older, they start to notice differences in family makeup, or the foods kids eat, and the holidays they celebrate. What they learn about these differences matters. Even at a young age, children can start to appreciate diversity and build empathy or develop biases and a belief that “difference is bad.”
When child care centers closed their doors at the start of the pandemic, America got an abrupt awakening about the critical role of early care and education in our society. While the fallout from COVID has put the industry on even shakier ground, lack of quality, affordable care for families, and low pay for early educators has been the reality for years.
First Steps Kent capitalized on the national conversation about child care to create more local awareness using a series of guest blog posts and social media graphics. We looked at the Case for Child Care from four different perspectives.
First Steps Kent and our partners are once again looking to the future to build backend 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.
Meeting families where they are is always a cornerstone of effective early childhood programs, but never more so than when families face constant uncertainty and disruption. Through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, Ready by Five service providers have continued to meet families where they are and provide the support required to address their unique needs.
“No wrong door” has been a mantra of the early childhood system in Kent County for decades. Regardless of where families turn for help – which door they open – they should be able to get answers to their questions and connections to the resources they need. Ready by Five has allowed us to build more doors across the community and make them easier for families to find.
Joslyn Ward participated in several home visiting programs for her two young sons over the years. She loved having someone nearby who was relatable and knowledgeable. Joslyn is passionate about making sure support is available during early childhood and wants to help make the community a better place for her boys, now ages 4 and 6.
Ready by Five added a new type of service in 2021: translation and interpretation. Families engaged in any millage-funded program can receive services in their preferred language. To date, that has included Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, Bosnian, Kinyarwanda, Burmese, Dinka, Karen, French, Nepali, Swahili, Congo Swahili, Dotyali, Amharic, Kunama, Rohingya, and Tigrinya.
When will things finally be normal again? It’s a question just about everyone is asking, and understandably so. At a deeper level, though, there is a follow-up question: “Do we really want to get back to normal?”
First Steps Kent has been looking critically at what constitutes normal for Kent County’s youngest children.
Total Revenue, Support and Net Assets = $6,363,440
Total Expenses = $6,180,254
- Support Services: $299,317
- Data Projects: $46,243
- Early Learning Initiative: $351,585
- Shared Services: $632,273
- Early Childhood Development: $4,850,836
Thank You for being our Rainbow
2021 was another difficult year, but First Steps Kent has a lot to be grateful for. Thank you to the child care and Ready by Five providers who have stepped up and done their best to support families. Thank you to parents and children for your resilience as you face new challenges each day. Thank you to our First Steps Kent Commission and Resident Proposal Review Board for guiding our work and leading thoughtful deliberations and decisions. Thank you to the community for supporting the providers, families, and one another in such meaningful ways. Thank you to our funders for being thoughtful, flexible, and equitable as we work and adjust to reflect the needs of young families in Kent County.