Quality early childhood education is essential to families everywhere. Having a safe, educational, and developmentally sound environment to send your infant, toddlers, and preschoolers to while you work or go to school is a privilege that everyone should be able to access and afford. According to American Job’s Plan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 50% of Kentuckiana families live in childcare deserts, areas lacking quality childcare centers. The COVID-19 pandemic hit low-income and families in these areas the hardest as our lives were forever changed and the need for quality care became even more apparent.
During COVID-19 families were forced to settle into a new normal, one where school-age children were forced to engage in education virtually, our youngest children aged 5 and under were forced to stay home due state mandated closures, and families were forced to rearrange their lives to accommodate the needs of their children. For some this meant quitting their jobs outside of the home to stay home and care for their children which meant a loss of income necessary to keep the household afloat. As mandates lifted and children were welcomed back into childcare centers and schools, parents and caregivers still had to once again get use to a new normal one where hours of operation changed and capacity of centers dropped so significantly that centers that could once accommodate 100+ children were now only able to safely care for 25. The pandemic exposed a fragile childcare system in Kentucky, a system which is foundational to every industry of business.
KET’s two-part series discusses these challenges and the state of childcare in Kentucky. In the first segment Renee Shaw was joined by Kevin Fields President & CEO of Louisville Central Community Centers Inc., Senator Danny Carroll, Kristin Watkins Collins, CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, and Benjamin Gies, Director of Early Childhood Policy and Practice at Prichard Committee, who expressed the challenges faced throughout the state of Kentucky for families and owners of childcare centers. From urban Louisville to the more rural areas of Kentucky families are feeling the impact of limited access to childcare.
In the second segment Renee Shaw is once again joined by the President & CEO of Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc. Kevin Fields and welcomed Dr. Beverly Gaines President & CEO of Beverly Gaines & Associates. During this segment Fields & Gaines opened up about the challenges faced in the west end of Louisville and by black families who are living in low-income areas where quality early childcare education is essentially non-existent, a childcare desert in an urban inner city. LCCC and Beverly Gaines & Associates intend to change this narrative through their partnership in which early childhood education takes on a wholistic approach from conception to age 5, addressing not only the needs of the child but the needs of the family unit.
The plan is to bring prenatal and pediatric care to the west end of Louisville while expanding and enhancing current early childhood education services offered by the Mini-Versity Early Childhood Development Center. Dr. Gaines describes the move to Mini-Versity’s campus as comfortable having a history of serving families in the downtown and west end area. “We know that the mothers we care for are more likely to have complications during pregnancy than white mothers and that our babies are also more likely to die in the first year of life” says Dr. Gaines “Babies born early already begin a little behind, if you are able to put a newborn who may have been born premature into a stimulating environment then that baby can catch up. This is where healthcare, good nutrition, and stimulation come in to help keep the child on their milestones.”
Mini-Versity is an anchor early childhood education center with a 73-year history of serving low-income families west of ninth street. Generations of black families have been served by Mini-Versity which has allowed them a safe and nurturing environment to send their children while they go to work or school. Mini-Versity has a long history of ensuring that children are kindergarten ready by age 5 but that is not enough. “We learned through our quality assurance work that we were seeing a lot more developmental delays in children and as a provider who focused strictly on the educational side, we were unable to deal with some of the developmental challenges detected in the assessments” say Kevin Fields, “We found ourselves doing a lot of external referrals but not able to be certain that the child needs were met.”
This sparked a new vision for Mini-Versity allowing the organization the opportunity to reimagine what early childcare looks like through creation of a plan to enhance current services, integrate prenatal and pediatric care, and expand their building to accommodate the needs of more families. “Early learning with a focus on preparedness to enter the school system is important” says Dr. Gaines, “we find that when children are not stimulated or kept appropriate on their milestones they don’t do well in school, they get derailed. Early childhood education is essential to have a healthy child who is successful in school and in life.”
One common theme throughout both segments seemed to be that the opportunity for investment is there but it is up to not only the community but state and federal lawmakers to push for funding to be allocated towards early childhood education. The need is there and by investing in our children from conception we are setting the course for their young lives to be healthy and successful. By making it possible for childcare centers to be equipped with the necessary resources to provide quality services through higher wages for early childcare professionals, through free and low-cost training, by providing funding for subsidies at a higher income level and allowing for the possibility of innovation we are investing not just in the lives of the families served but in the community.
To hear more about the challenges faced around Kentuckiana – KET – Childcare Challenges
To hear more about Louisville Central Community Centers (LCCC) plan to innovate childcare as we know it – KET – Early Childhood Development Initiatives in Louisville
On September 21st, 2021 at 6:30 PM, LCCC will host an Early Child Development Townhall to discuss issues in the early child development system. You can join in on the conversation by registering here.
This blog was written by Melisa Burch, Administrative Assistant for LCCC and mother to Makenzie, 8 and Aasir, 3 months.