Farm to Early Care and Education: The Parenting Place

In June of 2016 The Parenting Place, a Child Care Resource & Referral agency in La Crosse, WI, was awarded funding through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) practices with local child care programs in La Crosse County. The Parenting Place is working collaboratively on implementation with Community GroundWorks and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Wisconsin is one of four states working with the Kellogg Foundation as part of a larger project on behalf of Farm to ECE aimed at children ages 0-5, to increase access to fresh and local food options for children in early care and education, and to build children and families’ knowledge about healthy eating in care and at home.

“Right now, our obesity rate is so high in children and they have lost the connection ofHGNS - Garden where their food comes from,” said Farm to Early Care & Education Program Coordinator Emily Doblar, adding that the accessibility and low cost of fast food means some children don’t even frequent grocery stores often. Farm to ECE is “really just giving them a sense of community and excitement about healthy food while educating and engaging families makes a huge impact.”

This project is intended to run for 2 years, and The Parenting Place has chosen five child care sites for initial implementation of this project through a detailed application process. Emily currently works with these five sites. In the second year of the project another five sites will be chosen through a similar application process.

Emily not only works closely with the five participating child care programs but with local farmers, Master Gardeners, greenhouses and trainers like Community Groundworks to build lasting connections for these programs to access fresh, local food and provide hands-on experiences for children in care, such as field trips to local farms or having a garden onsite.

“Relationships are an important part of this work in so many aspects,” explained Emily. “We learn from our grant partners, child care sites and from the local farmers and growers that are working together to make this program a success.”

Each child care program has completed a Farm to ECE self-assessment identifying potential for growth in areas including purchasing and serving fresh and local food, family engagement, onsite gardens, and hands-on learning. From these self-assessments, programs have worked with Emily to create a Farm to ECE Action Plan, identifying steps to take and materials they need to meet their Farm to ECE goals, including ways to sustain those changes after the project with The Parenting Place is completed. The concept for both the self-assessments and the Action Plans are loosely based on similar tools used in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating & Improvement System. The Parenting Place provides partial funding for programs to meet their goals in a sustainable manner, such as child-sized gardening implements, tools to prepare local produce, field trips to farms or farmer’s markets, resources to host family engagement events, or gardening workshops for child care providers.

cowsThe connections Emily is building between early educators and local farming/gardening experts, has helped to overcome some of the unique challenges that ECE programs face in building Farm to ECE into their daily routines. Unlike many WI K-12 schools, child care programs are far more varied in the number of children they have at one time, making it difficult to meet minimum ordering requirements for farms and other fresh food vendors. Some child care programs have very limited budgets to work with, are in areas where it may be unsafe to leave for field trips, or have very little green space or light exposure for a garden. Each program also has their own philosophy that guides the care of the children and may affect how they approach Farm to ECE implementation. Furthermore, there is the need to consider cultural diversity across programs and families and how the Farm to ECE approach might look a little different to meet the varied needs of family and program cultures. For instance, Emily is working with a Hmong preschool teacher familiar with Farm to ECE to engage with Hmong farmers and is working with Community Groundworks to revise the Farm to ECE materials and approach to be a better fit for this purpose. Emily has been able to work with each program from where they are starting and what they need, getting local farmers and other resources in place to support program efforts.

“A lot of [the farmers] are really excited,” said Emily, noting successes like one local beef farmer who is on the board of a Farmer’s Market and would like to offer a family night with a petting zoo. Other organic growers have offered to send e-mails every few weeks to program sites to let them know when food is available at a reduced cost. Several farmers are open to having programs out for field trips, and a few have even offered to bring learning opportunities from the farm onsite for programs that are unable to travel from their building. Participating providers are also enthusiastic and have started to meet and discuss ideas and resources amongst themselves, a collaboration they plan to continue.

The end goal of this 2-year project (which concludes in May of 2018) is to impact approximately 250 children through the selected 10 child care program sites, by creating lasting changes in how these children and child care programs approach and understand healthy, local eating. Programs will be working to have sustainability plans in place so that they can continue integrating Farm to ECE into their daily routine beyond this project. Lessons learned from this project and the methodology used can then serve as a model for other ECE sites nationally, and could be used to inform future regulations, quality rating criteria or accreditation standards.

This story was originally published in the SFTA Q2 2017 newsletter. Access the full newsletter here, or sign up to receive our quarterly newsletters.

Governor’s “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” Proposal Through the Lens of Early Childhood

 

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The WI Governor recently announced that a component of his “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” proposal, which is a part of his 2017-19 budget, integrates a focus on “strengthening families.” This includes two measures in particular, which could give early childhood a positive boost: (Below taken from the Governor’s initial press releases and Wisconsin Works for Everyone announcement).

“Eliminating the Child Care Cliff

  • For some families, the childcare subsidy program contains a large benefit cliff at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). At the cliff, a family may lose far more subsidies than they gain from working more hours or taking a raise. This discourages work.
  • Reforms would eliminate the cliff by establishing a phase-out structure. Instead of losing all subsidies at once, working families would see co-payments increased by $1 for every $3 that a family earns over the 200 FPL threshold until the family’s contribution reaches full cost of care. Under our reforms, taking a raise would always pay for the purposes of childcare subsidies.”

“Invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program. The FFHV focuses on six areas:

  • Improved maternal and child health
  • Prevention of child injuries, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment
  • Increased school readiness and achievement
  • Reduced domestic violence
  • Improved family economic self-sufficiency
  • Greater coordination and referrals for other community resources and support”

Let’s break down what these measures mean for early childhood and for families, and what they look like in action.

The first measure, an effort to eliminate the “child care cliff” addresses the issue that some families have participating in WI Shares, which provides child care subsidies to help lower-income families pay for quality child care. The “child care cliff” refers to the effect that occurs when a family goes from being initially eligible, (the family’s gross monthly income must be equal to or less than 185% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for their corresponding group/family size), until their monthly income reaches 200% FPL, making them ineligible for subsidies. This means that if a family receiving subsidies has an increase in income—say that a parent gets a raise for instance, and their income reaches that 200% FPL, in the current system this family would no longer qualify for child care subsidies and could not receive assistance in paying for child care. This is problematic since many families still struggle to pay for child care even after they have reached that threshold. The cost they take on for child care as a result of losing those subsidies may be far greater than their increase in income.

This sets up a system that could discourage parents from seeking salary raises and promotions, and puts them in the position of having to choose between receiving child care subsidies they need now, and working towards upward mobility in their jobs, which may lead to long-term, sustainable income in the future that will eventually empower them to disengage from child care assistance and other forms of assistance. In some cases, if families lose this subsidy it could mean they can no longer afford child care, which leaves them with no care for their children and could put their job in jeopardy if they must take time off work to find a solution. The proposed change would modify this cliff to be a more gradual slope, by incrementally increasing the portion parents pay towards child care ($1 for every $3 earned over 200% FPL) while gradually decreasing the amount that subsidies cover, instead of taking all of the subsidies away at once. This gives parents the opportunity to better their work position and pay without having to worry about losing their child care subsidies until their income allows them to meet the full cost of paying for child care. Allowing this continued accessibility to quality care for families is incredibly important given the positive impact that quality early care and education programs have been shown to have for our youngest children, providing a developmentally supportive environment during a time when their brain is most rapidly developing.

The second measure, to invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program, is equally encouraging. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, FFHV currently serves more than 1,000 families statewide. Like quality early care and education programs, FFHV has been shown to have highly positive effects on the life-long outcomes of young children and their families. The FFHV program specifically seeks improved outcomes in at-risk families in the six focus areas identified in the Governor’s proposal, and does so through evidence-based home visiting that involves working with parents and children in their home environments. FFHV programming supports pregnant women and parents of children from birth to age five in engaging with resources that empower them with the knowledge to raise children who are physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and ready to learn. The Governor’s own Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC) included home visiting in their recommendations for investment, noting that home visiting shows several promising outcomes including:

  • Reductions in the number of low-birth weight babies
  • Reductions in child abuse and neglect rates by 50 percent
  • Improvements in school achievement
  • Increased graduation rates
  • A return of up to $5.70 for every dollar invested in home visiting, due to reduced costs of child welfare, special education, grade retention, and juvenile justice.

(Above outcomes taken from ECAC report: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/ecac/2015-ecac-annrpt.pdf)

This increase in funding for FFHV is a positive step for at-risk children and families who benefit from this program, but it is important to keep in mind that this state level increase comes after a significant 20% cut in federal funding to WI home visiting last year, from over $12 million to $10.4 million. This proposed state level increase would fill in this funding gap with a little over the previous federal funds, but still more funding is needed to support and expand the FFHV program beyond where it is now. Zero to Three provides resources and tools you can use in helping policymakers and professionals understand the importance of investing in home visiting: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/home-visiting-supporting-parents-and-child-development.

Both of these measures were included in the Governor’s 2017-19 Budget proposal, which is currently going through the legislative budget process. Keep an eye out for the finalized budget that should be effective this year at the beginning of July, in line with the state budgetary cycle.

For further detail regarding these measures and the  Wisconsin Works for Everyone proposal, watch the 2017 Budget Address: https://walker.wi.gov/wiworking

(This article was originally published in the SFTA Q1 2017 Newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletter).

Introducing the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program & the Latest News in Micro-Grants

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There are some new names and faces behind the YoungStar Micro-Grant team as Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) takes on the management of YoungStar micro-grants. Micro-Grant funding is available to programs that are participating in the YoungStar program and who have requested and are receiving technical assistance. These funds can be spent on materials, resources, and professional development opportunities that directly relate to a child care program’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). All purchase requests for micro-grants are processed and coordinated by the Micro-Grant Department: (*Reference the YoungStar regional map).

For general information questions about orders, timelines, or changes to a purchase plan:

For questions about returns or reimbursements:

Sarah Ross Berry, Micro-Grant Financial Specialist (sarah@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

For questions about policies and administration of the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program:

Sherri Underwood, Micro-Grant Manager (sherri@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

Assigning a specific Micro-Grant staff member to each YoungStar region for providers to contact has already noticeably decreased e-mails sent to the general micro-grant e-mail, showing providers are engaging more directly with the individuals serving their regions to obtain the information they need. This is not the only update the Micro-Grant Program has seen. Changes are being made to the YoungStar micro-grant process that you may have noticed if you are a provider receiving a micro-grant:

  • Reimbursements have gone out weekly to providers since SFTA took over the Micro-Grant Program in July of 2016. This allows providers to receive their money more quickly.
  • Programs will soon also be receiving their micro-grant materials faster, thanks to extra staff support that is being added to the micro-grant purchasing process (Chanel Ly).
  • The Micro-Grant Program is continuing to work to ensure that there is equal access to micro-grant materials and resources by working to translate materials into Spanish, and ensuring that Gloria is available to provide Spanish language support and Chanel is available to provide Hmong language support, as needed.
  • A focused effort is being made by the entire Micro-Grant Program to increase communications with Technical Consultants (TCs) regarding micro-grants. This means sharing micro-grant information on regular TC calls, including TCs on micro-grant e-mails to the providers they serve, weekly e-blasts to TCs and Micro-Grant staff taking more detailed notes regarding micro-grant interactions with providers that TCs can review. This gives providers the option to talk to their TC, who they know and trust, about their micro-grant.
  • Providers can access current micro-grant handbooks through their local YoungStar office by request (See the YoungStar Regional Map).
  • The Micro-Grant Program recently added a new vendor that providers can order discounted materials from, “S&S Worldwide,” to better meet the needs of school-age programs.

It is the Micro-Grant Program’s goal to make navigating the Micro-Grant Program simpler and more straight-forward for providers, and recent changes are a step in that direction. What all of this translates to out in the field is that child care programs are getting high quality materials and supports more quickly and efficiently to further their QIPs, which builds more developmentally supportive child care environments for children and their families. The Micro-Grant Program Staff are a crucial link in ensuring providers can use their micro-grants in a timely manner to support the quality of their programs and the children they serve.

Check out SFTA’s newest website addition, the Micro-Grant Program page for more information and resources on micro-grants.

This article was originally published in the SFTA Q4 2016 newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletters and other e-publications here.

Top 5 Reasons to Become a Regulated Child Care Provider in WI

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(Review the two types of child care regulation in WI: Licensing and Certification)

  1. Child Care Subsidies: Only regulated child care providers participating in YoungStar are eligible to care for families participating in Wisconsin Shares, which helps families pay for child care. This opens your program to a broader population of potential families in need of care. Participating in YoungStar also provides you with added benefits, such as technical consultation and access to micro-grants to purchase materials for your program.
  2. Participation in the WI Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Regulated child care programs can join a CACFP food program and are reimbursed for the cost of serving nutritious meals and snacks to the children in their care.
  3. Child Care Referrals: WI Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) generate lists of child care options for parents looking for child care and can only include regulated child care programs in these referrals. Deciding to be regulated puts your program on these lists, which makes good marketing sense for promoting your child care business.
  4. Business Benefits & Supports: Regulated child care providers may be qualified to apply for grants or loans, seek small business assistance, and claim income tax deductions. There is more technical assistance and consultation available to regulated providers from their local CCR&R, meaning that being regulated increases your opportunity for professional growth.
  5. Build Trust with the Families You Serve: Being regulated demonstrates your commitment to being a quality child care professional and shows that your program meets statewide standards meant to ensure children’s safety and well-being. This offers parents and caregivers looking for care an added level of comfort and trust in your program.

For more information about becoming a regulated child care provider, visit the SFTA website or contact your local CCR&R agency at (888) 713. KIDS (5437). (Click on the image at the top right of this post for an interactive version of this list).

(This post was originally published in the Supporting Family Together Association’s quarterly e-newsletter. Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter here, or visit our publication archives to see past newsletters).

4-C Literacy Backpack Series: “Literature as a Way to Support Social Emotional Growth”

When Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) funded 20 staff from their member agencies to attend the “Training of Facilitators for Positive Solutions for Families” in April, 4-C Referral Specialist Ruth DeNure from Madison was one of them. The training, a 6 to 8-week parenting curriculum, guided attendees in how to support children’s social emotional growth, and provided free social emotional themed children’s books to participants. Ruth left with the books, but also with an idea to use them in guiding parents at 4-C Play & Learns to better support their children’s social emotional growth.

“I wanted to use literature as a way to support social emotional growth, and to not just think of a book all by itself but as an avenue to start discussions,” said Ruth. “A book can actually be a conduit for that.”

With the ideas and materials from the training, and support from the SFTA Family Literacy Backpacks1Engagement Specialist, Ruth created a series of Literacy Backpacks that parents participating in 4-C Play & Learns can check out and take home to use with their children. Each backpack contains activities and ideas focused around a children’s book that addresses social emotional issues. The handout included in each backpack reads,

“Parents/caregivers who read to their children every day and talk about what they are reading together promote a joy of reading and literacy achievement. Literacy Backpacks encourage reading at home and support the role of parents as educators.”

Ruth has currently completed eight literacy backpacks, so that the program can officially kick off in September with four backpacks for each of the two teams of teachers at the 11 different 4-C Play & Learn sites. Creating the backpacks and their content has proven fairly cost-effective, since Ruth primarily used the books from the training and materials from the 4-C Resource Room and Play & Learns. As the program moves forward Ruth plans on evaluating and expanding the program based on its reach and feedback from participants.

What’s Inside a Literacy Backpack?

Each backpack contains a book, 4-5 story extender ideas for parents/caregivers to do with their child, and a folder with additional story extender ideas and materials explaining the importance of early literacy and the purpose of the Literacy Backpacks.

David Gets in Trouble Backpack

Sample story extender activities from the “David Gets in Trouble” Backpack:

  • “How does David feel?” activity: Pictures of David from the book are provided with different facial expressions. Children can match his expressions to the correct emotion, then parents can ask children questions about that emotion in their life (a.k.a. When was a time you felt happy? How do you feel today?)
  • Feelings Bingo: Bingo cards offer children different situations where children have to guess what emotions that situation would cause. For example, how might a girl getting a surprise party feel? Children can place a Bingo piece on the emotion listed on their game card that they think fits the situation.
  • “The things I can do” activity: Children work with their parents to identify ways they can help around the house. For instance, feeding the fish or putting away their things.
  • “Faces show feelings” activity: The object of this game is to have fun while learning about feelings and facial expressions. The child and parent each choose a marker.  Each player rolls the die and the person with the largest number goes first.  For younger children:  When the child lands on a face, they must make a face like the one they land on and tell about what makes them feel that way.  For older children:  When the child lands on a face, they must tell about a specific time when they felt that way.  The first person to the finish line is the winner.
  • Auditory Discrimination: Parents can read the book in a happy, sad or other emotionally charged tone. Children can share the differences in how they felt about the story when it was read through different emotions. Parents and children can talk about how our tone can reflect our feelings, and how that can affect others.

Stay tuned to the 4-C website for more information on this program and other services that 4-C provides.

Family Style Dining Guide

Check out this great mealtime resource for early care and education programs from the Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association and partners. This guide offers a family style dining approach that “early care and education programs [can] implement to address childhood obesity prevention and support children in developmentally appropriate mealtime experiences. All foods that meet the meal pattern requirement are placed on the table where children and adults sit together to share the meal. Children are encouraged to serve themselves independently or with adults’ help.”

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Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation in Wisconsin Best Practice Guidelines

Check out this great resource for Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC); an effective intervention strategy for building parent/caregiver capacity to support young children’s social and emotional development and to address challenging behaviors. Click here for the printable PDF.

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