A Community of Practice: Story Teller Network Support Group

Kao_MaichaoWhen Maichao Lor, a licensed family child care provider, moved to Wausau years ago, she saw that as a child care provider whose primary language was Hmong, accessing the same supports, trainings, and information that English speaking providers in her area had, was a challenge. As she met other Hmong speaking child care providers, she saw that they faced similar barriers in navigating the child care field. In 1997 she responded to that shared need by starting a support group for Hmong child care providers called the Story Teller Network Support Group. Eighteen years later her group still exists, and is now nearly 30 members strong.

“[The language barrier] is very stressful for them,” said Maichao, referring to her fellow Hmong providers. “We help each other out.”

These providers, all in family child care, meet once a month to discuss things like meeting licensing standards, completing necessary paperwork and business documents, and attaining training requirements. The group also offers a venue for Hmong providers to get to know others in their field who struggle with some of the same obstacles that they do, so that they can give one another feedback and advice.

Childcaring, Inc., the local Child Care Resource & Referral agency in Maichao’s area, sees the value in this the support group. In response they have put some of their available resources towards supporting the group’s efforts. Childcaring staff member, Kao Xiong, attends the monthly provider meetings, and thanks to a YoungStar Diversity grant, Childcaring is able to supply the group with resources, supplies, provider trainings in Hmong at a free or discounted rate, and other supports.

Kao said that in the years since she has worked with the group she has seen “a lot of positive” outcomes. “With providers limited in English speaking I see that it has helped them,” said Kao. “They become a network, answering questions of each other.”

Childcaring recently had an increase in their YoungStar diversity funding, permitting Kao to add on hours so that she can spend time one on one with Hmong providers, allowing her to provide more individualized technical consultation and answers their questions. This also puts her in a prime position to view their child care environments, so that she can offer any quality improvement tips that may be helpful to the provider’s success.

“We appreciate the support group for giving the opportunity for providers to connect on a regular basis,” said Micki Krueger, Assistant Director of Childcaring, Inc. “We appreciate the leadership of the group and we are just happy to work with them.”

Word of mouth within the Hmong community played a key role in establishing the group, but it is their mutual support and solid relationships that sustain it.

“The group comes together and we brainstorm what we need,” said Maichao. That can be anything from a relevant group field trip to practicing a craft or activity for the kids, to sharing some of their holiday meals together, which, added Micki, is a real bonding experience.

“They are building relationships and they are talking more about the business of child care,” said Micki. “I think that the professionalism and the idea of ‘this is a business and we are contributing to our community,’ has become more apparent for these providers.”

Support groups such as Maichao’s exist throughout the early childhood field, some focusing on family child care providers, some on non-English speaking providers, and others an open forum for all providers. But there are still many areas throughout Wisconsin that do not currently have a support group of this sort to benefit providers, leaving room for more groups to be established.

“I think that if any one provider were interested and has the passion and energy to start up a group, their CCR&R would be the place to start,” stated Micki, citing their connections with different groups throughout the community, including potential funders.

Maichao agrees that retaining funding and community support is a good place to start, but it is also about building the responsibility and engagement of your members to sustain the group.

“Spread out the work,” advised Maichao. “Put out three or four positive standards that will help the support group… whatever meets their needs.” Such as setting a monthly meeting, planned trainings and activities, and even setting modest member dues, like Maichao’s group does. Give members and potential members a sense of commitment to the group by getting them to invest and engage.

“It’s great to be in a support group for any kind of nationality,” added Kao, “it’s beneficial to anybody that’s out there who doesn’t know about this type of group to find more information about groups in their area…or start their own and go from there.”

To ask your local CCR&R about provider support groups in your area, or to get resources on starting a support group, visit: http://supportingfamiliestogether.org/member-directory/

*This story was originally published in SFTA’s quarterly e-newsletter. If you are interested in receiving the SFTA newsletter or any of our other publications please sign up here.