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12/1/2017 11:46:00 AM
Lots of empty seats: Two-thirds of free Madison County pre-K grants remain unclaimed
Giggles & Grins Day Care owner Jamie Goulding works with children in her Level IV accredited day care facility in Anderson this week. Staff photo by  John P. Cleary
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Giggles & Grins Day Care owner Jamie Goulding works with children in her Level IV accredited day care facility in Anderson this week. Staff photo by John P. Cleary

Rebecca R. Bibbs, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON – After running Giggles & Grins, a licensed day care in her home for 27 years, Jamie Goulding has a Level IV accreditation for her business, making her one of only six providers in the county eligible to provide services for the On My Way Pre-K program.

But in spite of her preparations, some of the program’s eight available seats at Goulding’s day care could be empty Jan. 2 as Madison County joins 14 other counties in piloting an expansion of the day care program for low-income families. The limited pilot is expected to be expanded to about 120 children in several more child care centers by next August.

“I know they have a lot of grant money and say they just can’t find the children who are 4 years old and on their way to kindergarten and are low income,” she said.

Toni Bond, On My Way Pre-K project manager for Madison and Delaware counties, said nearly two-thirds of the 45 available grants remain available to qualifying families.

“It’s free money for families. It’s a free opportunity for quality pre-K, and I hate for that to go to waste,” she said.

The January On My Way Pre-K program is available to children who turned 4 years old by Aug. 1, 2017, and expect to start kindergarten in August 2018.

As long as the participating child lives in Madison County, he or she may live in one community and attend the program in another, Bond said. For instance, a parent who lives in Lapel might work in Anderson and prefer a child to attend an eligible day care there, she said.

Parents or guardians of children in the program must work and/or attend school or an accredited or certified education/training program. Jobs or school commitments may be part time, Bond said.

Participating families must have an income below 127 percent of the federal poverty level. According to a chart on the program’s website, that means a family of four could have an income of $2,604 monthly.

“We’re trying to help the working needy, basically,” Bond said. “If we can take that burden off those families, it allows them to provide for the rest of the family.”

In addition to the program continuing through the summer, there are additional benefits for participating families. They include vouchers for morning and after-school care and school breaks as long as children attend elementary school near the day care.

“They’re still getting that quality child care experience over the summer as well,” Bond said.

She said some families may hesitate to apply for the program after seeing the chart, but it’s only a guideline and may be different, depending on the variables within a family. For instance, foster children may attend regardless of the family’s income.

“My motto is ‘if in doubt, fill it out.’”

Bond said the program also can be used by eligible families who have one of 14,000 on the waiting list for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration’s Child Care and Development Fund.

“This is a great opportunity for some of those 4-year-olds to get off of that wait-list,” she said.

United Way of Madison County, the lead agency locally, will match funds for each of the 30 remaining grants provided by the state. United Way also is working to raise money to match grants for the expansion in August.

Karen Hemberger, vice president of community impact for United Way, said she believes On My Way Pre-K is crucial to solving Madison County’s struggle with multigenerational poverty. It allows parents to work, and it gives children an opportunity to escape poverty by leveling the educational playing field.

“That alleviates a huge barrier. And one of the biggest barriers to employment for our families is child care,” she said.

Hemberger said what happens in the first five years of a child living in poverty is crucial to a child’s educational success.

“If we can get those first five years right and get them starting school on the same level as their peers, that will net significant success long-term for those children.”

Related Stories:
• Only 14 Monroe County families sign up for state-funded pre-K program; 36 slots still open

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