July 30, 2020

Supporting Early Education Providers

An Essential Service for Working Parents

The COVID-19 pandemic has created huge challenges for childcare providers, whose services are essential to working parents. The Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA) – a 2019 Community Impact grant recipient – has been working to provide support to those providers. Kelly Hook, WECA’s Director of Donor + Partner Engagement, shares an update of the work they’re doing.

WECA provider with kids
Early childcare providers provide an essential service to working parents and their children.

WECA works with professionals who provide childcare for more than 70% of Wisconsin’s children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, WECA’s staff stepped up to support Wisconsin’s system of early care and education in unprecedented ways.

COVID-19 exacerbated the already challenging circumstances the Wisconsin childcare industry faces. Programs already were under–resourced, and many were struggling to stay in business. With the increased disinfecting and cleaning measures, fewer children in a classroom, less mixing of children and staff, and other health and safety precautions necessitated by the pandemic, the cost to safely care for and educate young children has skyrocketed.

Before the pandemic, more than 50% of Wisconsin citizens lived in what was called a “childcare desert.” This means that there were three or more children for every regulated childcare seat. The First Five Years Fund estimates that Wisconsin could lose 41,357 childcare slots through the pandemic, intensifying the problem and creating a crisis for working parents. We are dedicating our work to that proving them wrong.

WECA staff have been working to build sustainability and increase wellbeing in this sector through our programs and support – dedicating our work to preventing this loss of childcare. We do this by continuing to support early childcare and education, and the people who work as childcare providers during these unprecedented, challenging times:

    • In early March, WECA created a COVID-19 resource webpage which provides vetted, timely resources for childcare professionals, families and children. As the pandemic has evolved, this site has become a landing page for many providers in the state and other states across the country.
    • WECA staff collaborated with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and Supporting Families Together Association in pairing childcare with families of essential workers in their homes.
    • WECA has offered extensive mentoring and coaching through its Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN), including:
      - Sharing best practices in providing safe and responsive care to young children during the pandemic.
      - Stacking federal, state, and local financial resources (grants and forgiveness loans).
      - Collaborating with childcare programs’ administrators, leaders, and boards of directors in navigating the evolving licensing requirements, health and safety protocols for staff, children, and families, among countless other considerations.
      - Long-term financial planning and reimagining of programming to include school–age children.
      - Onboarding technology systems and necessary computer hardware to connect virtually with staff, families, and other providers.
      - Offering support through online meetups with mental health professionals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced how essential the work of early childhood educators is not only to young children, but to their families and communities as well. It is clear that childcare is the workforce behind all others. Childcare is also the key to economic recovery and the backbone to healthy, thriving communities.

You can learn more about the work WECA does to support early childhood educators, children, and families on its website.

Learn more about Madison Community Foundation