An Open Letter To Esther Evans Central NY’s Own Mary Poppins

18 May

Dear Esther,

It has been several weeks since we met at your home tucked away in the rolling hills between Skaneateles and Marcellus, N.Y. You agreed to talk with me on the dawn of your retirement from 16 years as a licensed family child care provider, so I could “profile” your story for Child Care Solutions. The stories I typically write are attempts at illustrating the importance of the work we do on behalf of the Central New York child care system.  I spin negative circumstances which our agency has helped parents or child care providers overcome into heart-tugging pleas for more money, better legislation, and progressive public policies. But your story is different. Your story is an example of our vision –“every child being cared for in a high quality, safe and nurturing environment that cultivates healthy development, early learning and joy” – being brought to life. There is nothing to spin, no barrier to hurdle, no struggle to detail. Yet I want you to know, you tugged at my heartstrings like no other person I’ve interviewed.

The day we met began with a nostalgic drive down memory lane on the country roads of my youth. Farm houses, sturdy barns and rolling pastures brought me back to simpler days and led me to a humble home that felt comfortably familiar. I stumbled up your gravel driveway; you held the door open for me, your cheery yellow scarf blowing in the wind, and shouted, “Honey, I’m so glad to meet you.”  My heart knew you meant it. I loved you instantly. After formal introductions and offers of coffee and tea, I settled into a well-worn couch and learned about the volumes of knowledge accumulated during 16 years as a family child care provider. What was supposed to be a quick ½-hour interview about retirement evolved into a 2-hour visit that filled me with gratitude for having met such a kind soul. I could have stayed nestled in that couch forever. I’d liken the experience to what I am sure Jane and Michael Banks felt after realizing that Mary Poppins had magical nanny powers – it was mesmerizing!esther

Please know that meeting you felt like kismet to me. You came along during a period when I was questioning the relevance of my work and becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of political/societal will to change a dysfunctional child care system. You single-handedly reignited my spark because in you I saw what I’m working for – child care that is filled with learning, play, security, comfort, and most importantly, love. You embody what every child care provider should be. This vocation was your calling and countless children and parents benefited from your passion. My hope is that by writing this letter, others will reap the rewards of your wisdom; they will know your story is a diamond in the rough … and that we need more diamonds.

In 2000, you worked up the courage to open your own child care business. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” you told me.  You had never been your own boss, having worked in retail and at a Camillus copy center – where people would come in and scream and yell all day. The thought of anyone yelling at you is heartbreaking. Who yells at quite possibly one of the kindest ladies I have ever met? These jobs led to an assistant position at a child care center in Skaneateles, where you found your destiny. And I don’t use that word lightly. It is my belief that some people are simply hardwired to perform certain jobs. Child care is one of the hardest professions around and it takes a special person to do it really well – and to want to. Let’s face it, you weren’t in it for the money. You said yourself you should have charged more, but that wasn’t what it was about for you. For you, it was about the kids and loving them and helping their parents. “Where else can you go to work every day and get a hug and ‘I love you’?”  Oh, how I wish I would have known you when my children were small. The heartache you could have saved me.

As you know, Esther, heartache like mine can be quite common among parents who rely on child care when they are at work. Leaving your child in someone else’s care is a leap of faith. It is the ultimate test of trust. For you, it was “a privilege that parents would trust [me] enough to help raise their children.”  When you uttered those words, I choked up and thought, why can’t everyone feel that way? For truly, it is a privilege and an honor (albeit not always an easy one) to be entrusted with another’s safety, security and education. (We need this privilege to translate to community and political leaders – a letter for another day!) For 16 years you did it with grace, humility, confidence, common sense and a little bit of flair. That flair shines through in what I’m calling “Esther’s Pearls of Wisdom.” These are the nuggets you peppered into our conversation, and I’ve compiled them into a list so you can easily share them with others:

  1. Play outdoors all of the time, but be prepared for anything. Always have extra sweatshirts, socks, and underwear on hand.
  2. Thrifty Shopper and the Rescue Mission are a child care provider’s best friend for things like sweatshirts, coats and snowsuits. A little soap and water and things are like brand new!
  3. Don’t be afraid of making messes. It’s OK if you get paint on the table. It will come off.
  4. Let kids play. Let kids make mistakes.
  5. Kids are so smart. Give them the time and patience they need because slow and steady wins the race.
  6. Encourage, don’t discourage. Praise children for things they do well. Listen and get excited for them.
  7. Say “I’m sorry” as an adult and teach children to say “I’m sorry” sincerely.
  8. Place children on your heart and never take them off.
  9. Adults have good days and bad days. Children are no different – always remember that.
  10. Don’t buy expensive toys. It’s OK to get toys at garage sales.
  11. There are no bad kids – only bad situations.
  12. Greet children at the door with a hug or a handshake.
  13. Document, document, document every bump, bruise, tummy ache, etc.
  14. Jump in the mud!
  15. Do arts and crafts outdoors. Kids will be inspired.
  16. Parents visit a child care program multiple times before you make a decision. You can’t get a true sense of what a place is like in one day.
  17. Know what your limits are and what you’re capable of.
  18. If you can’t give kids 110% it’s time to quit.
  19. Have a schedule and share it with parents. Be flexible with the schedule if you need to.
  20. Enroll in CACFP.
  21. If you are the child care provider and you witness a child’s first step or word or smile, DO NOT TELL THE PARENTS! Let them have this experience.
  22. JUST LOVE THEM!

These pearls of wisdom are just a few of the examples of the kind of child care you provided, Esther. How lucky are the children and parents who benefited from this advice.

mackenna-green-beans

As you embark on your retirement, please rest assured knowing that you served the parents and children of your community well. The impact you’ve had on children’s lives cannot be underestimated. Children like Mackenna Caryl are better people for having been in your care; I’m sure she will always credit you for being the person who got her to eat green beans (a magical feat for many parents) and for being a second “grandmother” to her. Your “kids” who are now teenagers come back to visit you and write cards and letters. That says something!  So from me personally and the entire staff of Child Care Solutions, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, for treating child care as a profession, for doing right by children, for being the type of child care provider everyone should emulate, for being Central New York’s own Mary Poppins. You will be missed.

Sincerely,

Patrice Robinson

Marketing & Development Director

patrice crop

PS. Don’t be surprised if I stop by for freeze pops one day this summer!

Esther made differences in children’s lives every day. We need more qualified and caring individuals like Esther to support working families. When you support Child Care Solutions, it’s an investment in Central New York’s future. Your donation supports professional development opportunities for child care educators and providers like Esther and our public policy and advocacy efforts on behalf of quality and affordable child care.

Every day Esther invested in children, parents, and our economy. Make your investment in Central NY’s future.

DONATE

 

 

 

Registration is Open For The 2015 Professional Development Conference “The Future of STEM is Here”

12 Aug

PUTTING TRAINING INTO PRACTICE

At the Child Care Solution’s Columbus Day Professional Conference in 2014, Child Care Providers Learned About Natural Playscapes with Rusty Keeler.  Rusty did a workshop on building “Fairy Huts” with the students.  Kathy’s Group Family Day Care put this into practice this summer when the children let their imaginations run wild and they worked cooperatively to build their own fairy hut. Way to go kids!

What kinds of activities will Central New York child care providers incorporate into their programs after this year’s
conference “The Future of STEM is Here?”  Conference registration is open www.childcaresolutionscny.org!  Don’t miss out!

A Day For Child Care Providers, Because We Can’t Afford A Day Without Them

29 Apr

provider & toddler on playground

The second Sunday in May and the third Sunday in June have long been recognized as the days to honor mothers and fathers, respectively, for their commitment to parenting and children. We honor their dedication, selflessness and love with cards, flowers, brunch, barbeques and thanks. A lesser known but equally important day celebrates the other caregivers in children’s lives. Friday, May 8, 2015, Provider Appreciation Day, recognizes child care providers who care for our community’s children when mothers and fathers are working or attending school. Child Care Solutions encourages you to take a moment and reflect on why these caregivers deserve our admiration, thanks and support not only on May 8th but every day of the year.

Imagine if you will that there was no child care available to any working parent in Central New York. What would that look like for them and you? The Humboldt County California Office of Education produced a video titled “A Day without Child Care” that satirically demonstrates such a day. Parents are depicted dropping their children off at child care centers only to find them closed or with no staff. They panic and can’t go to work. An injured man in the emergency room awaits assistance to no avail because the doctors and nurses are absent due to lack of child care. Grocery store lines are long and slow because employees didn’t show up for their shifts. The satire is funny but not really ridiculous. Every day Central NY nurses, doctors, teachers, construction workers, police officers etc. rely on high quality child care in order to work and provide vital services to our community. If it weren’t available what would they do? What would their employers do? What impact might that have on our community?

While parents are working, child care providers step in and provide the love, nurturing, education, and fun that are necessary for the healthy development of children. It is a critical, difficult and often times undervalued role. Providing high quality child care requires business acumen, knowledge of childhood development principles, compliance with health & safety regulations, unlimited patience, creative thinking, and untiring physicality. Providers do this every day with little fanfare and often times low wages. By recognizing their dedication on May 8th, we remind the Central NY parents, employers, legislators & community members of the importance of high quality child care and let providers everywhere know that we honor and value their important work.

If you are a parent who relies on child care please take a moment to offer special thanks to your provider on this day. If you are a business leader, Child Care Solutions encourages you to learn more about the benefits of high quality child care for your business and the Central NY economy at http://www.childcaresolutionscny.org. If you are a child care provider, we say thank you for your commitment to this invaluable profession.

Patrice Robinson
Marketing & Development Director

It Is Time to Bolster the Foundation

12 Feb

A-CRACK-IN-THE-FOUNDATION

A sturdy foundation is essential in the construction of any home or building. Likewise, most people would agree that a strong foundation is critical to each person’s success in school, work and life. Child care and early education are key bricks in this foundation, yet collectively our nation, state and local community have long ignored the fractured child care system that exists in our country.

Fortunately child care has become the focus of considerable national attention recently. In his January 20, 2015 State of the Union Address President Obama stated “In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality child care more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have: it’s a must-have. So it’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”

On January 16, 2015 Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said: “Child care is an essential service, and we need to make sure it is accessible and affordable for all of our families. New York’s moms and dads should never have to choose between quitting a job and going bankrupt, just to take care of a young child.”

Then, on the February 8, 2015 edition of GPS, Fareed Zakaria featured a segment on the importance of preschool education. He called President Obama’s preschool budget proposal “urgent”, noting that “the U.S. lags behind other countries when it comes to educating our youngest brains.”

Reliable child care is a necessity for parents who must work outside the home to support their families. Every child deserves to be cared for in a high quality, safe and nurturing environment that cultivates healthy development, early learning and joy. Children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development is impacted by the quality of the care they receive, but good child care is expensive and often unaffordable. For many families, paying for child care represents a family’s largest monthly expense after housing. Child Care Aware of America’s 2014 report on Parents and the High Cost of Child Care ranked New York the least affordable state in the nation for child care.

Central New Yorkers must also take notice and support investment in child care and early education to meet the challenge of providing a strong foundation for our children’s future success in school and the workforce. Every citizen can help by contacting your elected officials to urge support for measures that will improve affordability and access to safe, nurturing, high quality early care and learning programs. Now is the time for business and political leaders to work together and treat child care as an economic and social priority for the sake of our community’s future and the sake of every child in Central New York. To learn more about the importance of high quality childcare visit the Child Care Solution’s website at http://www.childcaresolutionscny.org.

Lori Boles
Executive Director, Child Care Solutions

Changing Adult Behavior To Improve Child Outcomes

26 Aug

Pancakes for breakfast.

Pancakes for breakfast.

Imagine this…You are 4 years old and nestled in your cozy pajamas gently waking to the smell of pancakes and eggs cooking on the stove.   You slowly rise as your mother calls you down for your favorite breakfast.  You enter the brightly lit kitchen greeted by a kiss and hug from your mom and a “how did you sleep?” from your dad.  You eat breakfast together then mom heads to work and you and dad have a few minutes to read your favorite picture book together.  Dad then gets dressed for his job and you pick out your favorite shirt and pants to wear to pre-school.   Dad drops you off at your classroom and you beeline for the Legos because they are your favorite thing to play with your best friend.  Dad waves goodbye after he talks to your teacher and says “pick you up at 5.”  You spend the day playing, reading, eating, napping, building Legos, coloring, painting and being silly with your friends.

 

Now imagine this…You are 4 years old and are waking up to a silent house.  You go to the empty kitchen that makes you shiver because the landlord will not fix the broken furnace. Your mom is sleeping because she had to work the late shift.  You open the refrigerator where you pull out a bottle of soda and grab some cereal.  There is not a lot of cereal left because your older brother gave it to you for dinner the night before.  Your brother then yells at you to get dressed because he has to walk you to your neighbor’s house.  Your neighbor is a really nice person who loves children but doesn’t know what to do with you all day.  They want you to behave and not make a lot of noise so they tell you to go watch TV, which you do until your brother picks you up on his way home from school.

 

Now believe this…these two very different “scenarios in the life of a 4 year old” happen every day in our community.  And I’m pretty sure we all can guess which 4 year old is going to have greater opportunities to become a successful, productive, healthy, contributing member of society.  We have been shouting it from the rooftops that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to brain development. We tweet, we Facebook, we write letters to the editor, we speak to anyone who will listen!  Why do we do it?  Because we care about the children of Central New York.  We advocate for them because they can’t advocate for themselves.  Because we know that in order for our community to have less crime, a better educated workforce, healthier citizens, and economic prosperity we have to build a strong foundation.  This foundation starts to form the second a child is born and in truth it is developing in-utero.

But how can we create better foundations when we know that so many of the children in our community are living with toxic stressors that prevent that critical brain development from occurring?   These stressors or “brain development blockers,” include poverty, violence, abuse, neglect, drugs, and mental illness.  These are the things we all know exist but often find difficult to confront.  In the city of Syracuse 67% of children under the age of five live in poverty.  In Onondaga County 20% of families with children under the age of five live below the federal poverty level.  Many of these children are also dealing with the other toxic stressors putting them at huge disadvantages from the beginning of their lives.  The statistics are overwhelming and I have often heard it said that these problems are too big to tackle.  In reality aren’t they too big not to tackle?  This is a battle for our future. 

 

Now I’m not naive.  I don’t think we can wave a “magic paradigm shift wand” and solve these societal problems.  But I am intrigued by the work of the folks at Frontiers of Innovation (FOI) at the Harvard Center for the Developing Child.   FOI is a “community of more than 400 researchers, practitioners, policymakers, philanthropists, and experts in systems change from across North America.  The goal of FOI is to bring about substantially greater positive impacts for vulnerable young children whose needs (or the needs of their caregivers) are not being fully met by existing policies and programs.”

 

FOI is currently exploring 3 methods of improving outcomes that involve protecting children from the impacts of toxic stress.  One method that is of particular interest to Child Care Solutions is skill building of adults who care for vulnerable children.  Like the neighbor in the second scenario above, many caregivers are well intentioned but they often lack the skills, experience and knowledge to improve the outcomes of the children in their care.  This skill building is not accomplished by simply providing information or support; it is accomplished through modeling decision making and appropriate techniques for caring for children. This theory forces agencies like ours to examine the way we train child care providers and parents.  We cannot be “passers of paper,” instead we have to use our knowledge and resources in a “boots on the ground” method of demonstrating and modeling the appropriate methods of interacting with and caring for our community’s children. Fortunately we have been doing this for some time, albeit in a limited way.  But the challenge is to bring this modeling to the scale necessary to create societal change.  It requires funding to support our trainers, support from policy makers and community leaders and the desire to truly start changing outcomes for our children. 

 

Now imagine again that you are the child in the second scenario above.  The caregiver has done “skill building” with Child Care Solutions.  Our trainers visited the home and modeled activities and practices that are easy to implement.  Now instead of your neighbor telling you to go watch TV, she has a set of building blocks in the living room and the TV is off.  She has a healthy snack waiting for you because she knows you might be hungry.  After your snack you go outside for a walk and count the number of objects that are the same colors as the blocks you played with. When you come back you get to color and talk about the things you saw on your walk.  These are simple changes, but they have to be taught and modeled for many adults.  Don’t these small changes make the future seem a little brighter though?

 

For more information on the research of the Frontiers of Innovation

Visit http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/

Friday, May 10th is Child Care Provider Appreciation Day

6 May

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The second Sunday in May has long been recognized as the day to honor mothers and their commitment to children. The Friday before Mother’s Day, May 10, 2013, is Provider Appreciation Day, a special day to recognize child care providers, teachers, school-age program staff, child care center directors and staff, and all those who work with children and are responsible for their education and care. It is estimated that nearly 11 million children under age 5 are cared for by 2.8 million child care providers in the United States.

“Every day, child care providers care for more than 7,000 children under the age of 5 in Onondaga and Cayuga counties of New York, says Patrice Robinson, Marketing & Development Director of Child Care Solutions, the local child care resource and referral agency. “The children and parents of Central New York depend on our child care providers. May 10 is the day to recognize the hard work and dedication of these providers and to acknowledge their contributions to quality care.”

Provider Appreciation Day was started in 1996 by a group of volunteers in New Jersey who saw the need to recognize the tireless efforts of providers who care for children of working parents. Momentum and support for this event has grown each year, and recognition presently includes individuals and government organizations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
“By recognizing the dedication of child care providers on May 10, we remind our communities of the importance of quality child care and let providers everywhere know that we recognize and value their important work,” said Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America, the host organization of Provider Appreciation Day. “Ninety percent of brain development occurs during the first five years of life. Providing quality care for our children – especially during this critical time – will help ensure their future success.”

In recent years, local governments across the United States have joined many Governors in proclaiming this day of recognition. Around the globe, Department of Defense installations celebrate Provider Appreciation Day by recognizing those who care for the children of military parents living both at home and abroad. Events such as luncheons, parades, dedications, and other recognition celebrations are planned throughout the United States to honor and thank child care providers for their hard work and commitment to children.

“It takes a special person to work in the child care field, and these individuals are often unrecognized,” says Robinson. “This day offers an opportunity for parents to show their child care providers their appreciation.”

To learn more about Provider Appreciation Day or for ideas on how you can thank your child care provider, visit http://www.childcaresolutionscny.org or contact Patrice Robinson, marketing and development director, at patricer@childcaresolutionscny.org or (315) 446-1220, ext. 354.

Resolutions For New York’s Children

5 Dec

andrew_cuomoSoon it will be time to make New Year’s resolutions for 2013. I’d like to add a resolution to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s list: “I will use my power and influence to make more high quality early education programs available to New York’s young children.”

Back in August, the New NY Education Reform Commission visited Syracuse for one of 11 meetings held around the state to gather input from experts and advocates. Child Care Solutions was part of that discussion, and our message then is the same today: Kids who start behind, stay behind.

Soon the commission will make final recommendations to Cuomo on improving the state’s struggling education system. We join Winning Beginning NY and early childhood supporters around the state in asking the commission to include the following recommendation to the governor: Ensure access to high-quality pre-k and child care for every New York family.

Brain researchhas come a long way in recent years. Today, we know the first years are the most crucial learning period in a child’s life. Indeed, 75 percent of brain development and 85 percent of intellect, personality and social skills develop before a child starts kindergarten. At every level of education, New York state is putting systems in place to measure outcomes and improve learning. It is time that these same rigorous standards also apply to early childhood programs — including both pre-k and child care.

That is why ensuring access and quality of early childhood education must include the expansion of QUALITYstarsNY, the state’s five-star rating program for early childhood programs. Just increasing access to programs isn’t enough — they must be of high quality. The benefits last a lifetime: increased school readiness, better health outcomes, decreased teen pregnancy, and increased rates of high school graduation and college completion.

These benefits aren’t limited to the child and family. They extend to communities, reducing the need for costly remedial education and social programs. And it doesn’t stop there. For every $1 invested in early education, there is a $1.86 return in money spent in that community, making high-quality pre-k and child care programs a sound local economic investment as well.

Given theeconomic climate, we know the commission and the governor face tough choices in every area of education. There are countless needs in reforming our struggling schools — with very little funding. But to make reform efforts successful, New York state should recognize (as many other states and countries already do) that our education system starts at birth.

Next year can be the year that we begin to ensure access and quality of pre-k and child care for every New York state family with young children. It’s a winning strategy that will help children and families, strengthen schools, boost the economy and make sure the Empire State remains competitive for decades to come. Governor: Will it be on your list of resolutions for 2013?

Peggy Liuzzi
Executive Director
Child Care Solutions

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