It is an all too familiar scenario being played out over and over across our region and state: Childcare centers struggling to stay open and struggling to find qualified staff while parents struggle to find quality care. “Promoting, supporting and creating high quality childcare in our region” is a priority identified by the Orleans and Northern Essex (ONE) BBF Council. And it is the goal of the new Northeast Kingdom Early Childhood Cooperative, a Let’s Grow Kids Shared Services VT initiative, described as “a collaborative, community approach to increasing the quality, efficiency and sustainability of Vermont Child Care programs.” Also, BBF’s Building Vermont’s Future from the Child Up Think Tank Report names the creation of child care hubs as one of its six statewide recommendations.
Northeast Kingdom Learning Services (NEKLS) has been identified as the host agency for the new Regional Hub for the communities in the greater St. Johnsbury and Newport regions. The official name of the new hub is the Northeast Kingdom Early Childhood Cooperative (NEK ECC). In this role, the NEK ECC will work with a regional network of childcare programs as the administrative “hub” that enables programs to share services, staff, tools, information and business supports such as:
- General Administrative and Fiscal Support
- Human Resources
- Professional Development
- Discounts and Bulk Purchasing
- Leveraging Local Resources
- Curriculum and Programming
The NEK ECC Mission and Vision
The mission of the Northeast Kingdom Early Childhood Cooperative (NEK ECC) is to support the sustainability of the member businesses by identifying needs, leveraging resources and sharing expertise with the goal of providing high quality services for families with children in the NEK.
The vision for the NEK ECC is:
- A foundation of a strong economy and a healthy community with a strong early care and education system
- Early childhood programs in the NEK are high quality, sustainable and strong businesses
- Families in the NEK have access to a variety of high quality early childhood programs
The NEK ECC has launched with three centers: Little Dippers Doodle and ABC & LOL in St. Johnsbury, and Jay Peak Child Care Center in Jay. Additionally, there are two home-based providers, Mountain View Family Child Care in Troy and Little Angels Family Child Care in Derby that have joined the network.
Recently, Lisa Daigle-Farney was hired as the new NEK ECC Coordinator. Lisa is currently working to identify areas where providers need support. One component of the Cooperative is to be able to make “bulk purchases” to reduce costs to the Hub members. Lisa gave a couple of examples- buying fresh fruits and vegetables at bulk rates; and negotiating a group rate for the annual fire extinguisher inspection, which can be costly to providers, as services that they are interested in. As the Cooperative grows and the needs are identified, opportunities to access more support for the business management of the childcare centers in terms of technology, grant administration and human resources will be available.
The NEK ECC is developing and will deliver ongoing opportunities for professional development to Network members that meet the requirements of the early childhood system in Vermont and support continuous quality program improvement. Lisa is able to offer CPR/First Aid training at a rate that is affordable and provides more flexible scheduling, to better meet the centers’ needs. In addition, there is a growing list of professional development opportunities available, such as NEAR science; Mental Health First Aid Training; UMatter, a suicide awareness/prevention training; Strengthening Families; Basic Specialized Care; The Fundamentals for Early Childhood Professionals class; and “Say It Straight” Curriculum for building positive communication skills.
The Providers in the Hub expressed interest in the creation of a Substitute Pool. Lisa explained that this has become the biggest challenge so far, finding individuals that are interested and are able to meet the staff qualification requirements. She continues to actively recruit substitutes to meet this need.
Lisa is working with other community partners to enhance the services that are available through the NEK ECC. The Northeast Kingdom Community Action Micro Business Program is available to support small business owners, and the North Country Career Center is offering the “Step Up To Childcare” class, to support workforce development in the childcare field. Collaborating with the Building Bright Futures Regional Councils, the Starting Point Networks and Northern Lights at CCV is listed as an “essential duty” for the NEK ECC Coordinator.
Currently, any early care and education provider can access the Shared Services website at www.SharedServicesVT.org a one-stop web shop for program resources and discounts. The site includes easily customizable parent handbook templates, budget forms, as well as other resources.
For more information on the Northeast Kingdom Early Childhood Cooperative, contact Lisa Daigle-Farney at 802-334-5444.