Have you ever looked at star ratings before visiting a potential hotel or restaurant? How about before enrolling one’s child in a particular daycare? One has the opportunity to do that through a program called Parent Aware.
Alicia Bauman (Parent Aware Recruiter), Lynn Balstad (a Quality Coach and Program Coordinator for Child Care Aware in Region 1), Missy Okeson (Program Officer for Community Impact for Northwest Minnesota Foundation), Tabi Steinmetz (Program Officer of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation’s Economic Development Department), and Joan Berntson (First Children’s Finance) discussed the various programs and financial assistant means out there for parents looking for child care and those interested in starting up or maintaining a child care business.
Child Care Aware is a resource that serves early childhood educators, child care providers, parents, and childcare centers that work with any children from zero to eight years old.
“Child Care Aware is basically that place where early childhood providers and parents can go to for a resource and education,” Balstad said.
Parent Aware— a Child Care Aware program— provides families with a resource they can use to easily identify not just child care in the area, but those child care and early education programs that are using research-based practices to prepare children for kindergarten. Those who participate in this program receive ratings of one, two, three, or four stars. Each of these ratings builds on the other, allowing families to find out how far along a program is in adopting different practices.
According to information from Parent Aware, those who volunteer to be rated through Parent Aware have “gone above and beyond health and safety requirements.” They also have done in-depth training, devoted themselves to caring relationships with each child, adopted the latest approaches to ensuring children’s learning is staying on track, and committed to daily activities and routines that aid children learning.
As Bauman explained, participating in this program provides numerous benefits to early childhood educators, including coaching and professional development advising. It provides a couple different pathways of assistance, including one that’s more of a coaching-type of assistance and another that’s more of a technical assistance.
Bauman highlighted how Child Care Aware offers providers different times of year in which they can apply for RETAIN bonuses or TEACH grants.
According to childcareawaremn.org, RETAIN bonuses reward those early childhood educators who have shown a “committment to the field by continuing their education and professional development.” These bonuses can be used for program supplies, training, or personal expenses.
A TEACH grant helps provide financial support to those who choose to return to school to further their education, usually to get a two or four-year degree or a CDA Child Development associate credential. Balstad said they have people in the area pursing this credential right now.
Speaking of financials, participating in the Parent Aware program doesn’t come with any application fees for early childhood educators who choose to participate. After a providers receive a star rating, they become eligible for different grants based on their star level. They can receive grants anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000.
For regional grants that provide funds to help in covering supply, equipment, technology, and training costs, child care programs can qualify for them during the application period, September 1 to September 25, through Child Care Aware. Visit the following link for more info: www.childcareawaremn.org/providers/grants-and-scholarships/regional-grants/ .
As for other resources, Missy Okeson works as a Program Officer in Community Impact at Northwest Minnesota Foundation (NWMF), covering a 12-county area, plus the tribal nations of Red Lake and White Earth. In terms of childcare, this organization provides various trainings to these providers, awards grants, works with Child Care Aware and First Children’s Finance, brainstorms ideas for child care solutions, and, pre-pandemic, would visit communities to facilitate meetings focused on how to bring child care to communities in a way that works for them.
NWMF brings in an external organization, First Children’s Finance, to focus on the business side of child care, including providing dollars, trainings and resources to aid providers in areas such as cash flow, budgeting, taxes.
“We’re (at First Children’s Finance) trying to help child care providers who maybe became business owners and entrepreneurs, because they had young children and they couldn’t find child care,” said Joan Berntson of First Children’s Finance. “We want them to start seeing themselves as the CEO of their child care business.”
Through its Child Care Finance Program, NWMF also provides technical assistance to those day care providers or early childhood educators, including in the areas of bookkeeping, market analysis and pricing operations.
Tabi Steinmetz, who leads the Child Care Finance Program, said this program came about in approximately 2018 when NWMF began talking about an issue in the area.
“One thing that has been clear all along, but has really been brought to the forefront is just the lack of child care in the region,” Steinmetz said. “So we kind of developed this program, the Child Care Finance Program, in which we had three goals.”
The first is to increase available child care slots in the region, emphasizing infant slots. The second is to increase the number of Parent Aware providers in the region. The third is to retain existing providers.
“(We work to) ensuring that these providers see themselves as business owners and treat themselves,” Steinmetz said, “and show others how to treat them with the respect that their profession deserves.”
As part of this program, it provides forgivable loans of up to $5,000 for up to five years.
“If the provider stays in business for the length of the term, it is completely forgiven. The provider doesn’t have to pay it back,” Steinmetz said. “ … If the provider chooses to either close their doors to their childcare center or move out of our region, at that point, it turns from a forgivable loan to a payable loan.”
The Child Care Finance Program also provides a low interest loan program to assist current providers. This loan program also goes up to $5,000 for five years. The interest rate on this loan begins at 1.5 percent, but as a provider earns a Parent Aware rating, that interest rate drops down to point five percent. For more info on this program, visit: www.nwmf.org/loans/child-care-finance/ .
To see the complete story, read the March 17 issue of The Tribune in print or online.