Tackling 2 issues at once: increasing child-care access and employment
A Working Cities leader shares tips on creating a successful child-care training program
In the River Baldwin section of Waterbury, Connecticut, families searching for employment often struggle to find quality, affordable child care. The pandemic only worsened this problem.
Several home-based child-care facilities closed after COVID-19 hit, and the community of about 2,900 only had about seven of them to begin with, recalled Tomas Olivo, initiative director of Waterbury’s RIBA ASPIRA Career Academy.
But as his team considered the growing need for child care, they saw an opportunity to simultaneously tackle local unemployment: They created a training program for residents looking to open licensed home-based child-care facilities. Currently, about seven program graduates are getting licensed, and more residents are joining, Olivo said.
“That’s a huge steppingstone for us,” he said.
Olivo’s academy is part of the Working Cities Challenge, a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston community development initiative focused on New England’s post-industrial cities. The challenge is under the umbrella of the Boston Fed’s Working Places initiative, which also includes the Leaders for Equitable Local Economies, or LELE.
The lack of quality, affordable child care is a problem nationwide. In a conversation in January with LELE members from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Olivo shared advice for teams looking to start programs similar to Waterbury’s:
- Be strategic and consistent with community outreach.
Olivo said building connections within the established community of home-based child-care providers is crucial to program success, but breaking into those circles can be difficult.
His team focused on building a relationship with the local union for child-care providers, which they’re now partnering with to develop an apprentice program. Olivo added that when reaching out to individual child-care business owners, it’s important to maintain an open mind and collaborative attitude.
The academy also used their most popular services to spread the word about the training program’s launch. For instance, many residents who joined the child-care course found out about it through the academy’s English and GED classes.
- Make training programs accessible and realistic for families.
The academy’s training follows a regular schedule, as participants meet twice a week in three-hour sessions for eight months. The trainings cover everything needed to become a licensed home-based child-care provider – including certifications in first aid and CPR. The academy also has staff onsite to care for participants’ children, Olivo said.
Program graduates often visit new participants to share how the training has led to positive experiences and new opportunities, he added.
“If I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are willing to work (and) get trained, but it has to be worth it for them,” Olivo said. “And they have to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
- Consider regional resources that cover a wide range of issues, not just child care.
Regional resources, like workforce boards, can alert teams to funding opportunities they otherwise might not hear about, Olivo said.
He said keeping in regular contact with the regional workforce board for Waterbury’s area has helped the academy secure funding for the training program and child care for participants while they are in class. It also helped fund furniture purchases for program graduates who are now opening their own home-based child-care centers.
Check out Season 2 of the Boston Fed’s podcast, Six Hundred Atlantic, which focuses on the nation’s child-care crisis.