Lets listen to the story: Lacey Eisman, the lead teacher at Nuture with Nature, a daycare on the northside of the city, reads a story to youngsters on Friday. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Lets listen to the story: Lacey Eisman, the lead teacher at Nuture with Nature, a daycare on the northside of the city, reads a story to youngsters on Friday. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Caroline Wagner and her family recently moved to Terre Haute from out-of-state for employment, and one of the top priorities was finding quality child care for her two younger children, ages 2 and 4.

She found what she was looking for at Nurture with Nature, owned by Dawn Langer. "We were thrilled to find it. It's really hard to find high quality child care, especially in smaller cities like Terre Haute," said Wagner, an adjunct instructor at Indiana State University whose background is in education.

Wagner likes the educational philosophy used, the Reggio Emilia approach, and "to find that here was amazing." Her children are housed in a newer facility that received United Way of the Wabash Valley funding for indoor equipment, as well as an outdoor, nature-based play area. 

The United Way grant helped provide equipment that "allows for that creative, open-ended play that teaches children problem-solving," Wagner said. "I really like that they are getting that love of learning by coming here."

The Reggio Emilia philosophy promotes inquiry-based learning, so with open-ended materials, children have the opportunity to do "all different kinds of exploration," Wagner said. When a child or group become interested in a topic, teachers can use that interest and facilitate learning based on that interest, rather than planning unit studies week by week.

Finding quality day care "is hugely important," Wagner said. "When I'm working, I don't want to have to worry about my children."

Child care and the economy

While some families benefit from high-quality child care in Indiana, too many don't, according to a study conducted by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute and funded by Early Learning Indiana.

The study, "LOST OPPORTUNITIES: The Impact of Inadequate Child Care on Indiana's Workforce & Economy," indicates that lack of child care is hurting Indiana's businesses, workforce and economy, and the Hoosier state is losing out on billions in economic activity each year as a result.

The study finds that, because of the lack of access to child care, Hoosier businesses spend nearly $1.8 billion annually to pay wages of absent employees, for overtime and temporary workers, and for costs associated with reduced productivity.

Overall, Indiana’s economy loses nearly $1.1 billion each year as a result of reduced consumer spending, income and job loss, and the ripple effects of the lack of child care. This equates to a $118.8 million annual tax revenue loss for the state.

The study also estimates that, on average, working parents with children under five are absent from work 13.3 days each year due to child care issues. Additionally, about 11,000 working parents quit their jobs to address child care needs.

"Often, we hear people acknowledge the long-term benefits of early childhood education," said Jeff Harris, director of public affairs for Early Learning Indiana. "What we have never added to the argument is how it affects the economy and workforce today. It has a huge, huge impact. People are losing their jobs or leaving their jobs directly related to child care situations."

Harris added, "When people can't find safe, reliable, affordable child care, they can't work."

According to Early Learning Indiana, Vigo County has 203 early childhood programs, which include 28 child care centers; 148 home-based [family] child care programs; four ministries; 19 school-age programs and four Headstart programs. Those programs have the capacity to serve 4,324 children ages infant through school age.

Of the 203 total, 67 are high-quality programs (rated 3 or 4 on Indiana's Paths to Quality rating system) with a capacity to serve 1,285 children, Harris said.

Total enrollment across all programs is 3,484 children, and of those, 1,165 — or 33.4 percent — are enrolled in high-quality programs, according to data provided by Harris and Early Learning Indiana.

There are many people with needed skills who want to work but leave the workplace because they can can't find quality child care or can't afford it, Harris said. High-quality programs, which include an education component, can be costly.

In Vigo County, the median family income is $43,726 for families with one or more children, and the annual cost of full-time, high-quality child care is on average is $7,344, Early Learning Indiana reports.

Among those concerned about the study's findings is the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber did see the study and "the numbers are very alarming in terms of the local and statewide impact," said Kristin Craig, chamber vice president. The Chamber's board of directors supports initiatives for a statewide pre-kindergarten program, "both as an issue for today's workforce and for tomorrow's employees."

Christi Fenton, Vigo County School Corp. director of elementary education, said child care is an economic development issue that helps the workforce and helps recruit businesses to a community. Those moving to a community often want to know about schools and child care.

For many families trying to make ends meet, when they look at daycare and its cost, "They have to determine, 'Can I work or do I have to stay home because I can't afford it' ... The more opportunities for good quality daycare out there, people are more apt to feel comfortable going to work because they know their children are being taken care of," Fenton said.

Initiatives in Vigo County

Efforts are underway in Vigo County to address the problem. In 2017, the community was one of 15 additional Indiana counties that became eligible for state’s pre-kindergarten pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds, On My Way Pre-K, after the Legislature approved additional funding.

It provides grants so children have access to high-quality pre-k programs the year before they begin kindergarten. Participating programs must be level 3 or level 4 on Paths to Quality, Harris said.

In Vigo County, there are 150 slots, and as of last week, 57 families had children enrolled, "which is wonderful," said Natalie Pugh, director of the Child Care Resource and Referral program with Chances and Services for Youth [CASY]. "We're still enrolling families."

She describes it as a "really good opportunity" because there are currently about 200 children on the Vigo County Child Care Development Fund [CCDF] voucher wait list; it is a federal program that assists the low income with child care.

United Way of the Wabash Valley, through its Success by 6 initiative, submitted the application and provided a $45,000 match required to be part of On My Way pre-k. Success by 6 aims to provide every child with basic reading skills so they enter kindergarten ready to learn; Kristin Craig of the Chamber and Karen Harding of CASY are Success by 6 co-chairs. 

In developing its new strategic plan, United Way said a common issue brought up by community and business leaders was access to and affordability of high-quality child care.

"This issue is vital for both the employers looking to attract and retain workers and parents looking to provide for their children," said Abby Desboro, United Way marketing and communications director. "One of our big charges here with our Success by 6 impact council is working to improve quality child care in our area and also to raise awareness of the need."

Pugh said Vigo County has several high-quality programs. "But do we have enough? I don't think we do ... I can't say that any community has enough high-quality programs," she said.

United Way of the Wabash Valley's Success by 6 "is doing great work. It is a committee of go-getters," Pugh said. "They see the need in the community, and they have families and children at the top of their radar."

In a separate initiative in 2017, United Way solicited proposals from child care sites in an effort to increase enrollment in high-quality programs or to move sites up in the Paths to Quality rating program. A committee reviewed applications from more than 19 child care sites, and three providers at four locations were awarded two-year grants totaling $100,000.

Those selected were Big Sprouts and Little Sprouts in West Terre Haute; CRADLES Brazil; CRADLES Clay City; and Dawn's Day Care [Nurture with Nature] in Terre Haute.

Dawn Langer, who owns Dawn's Day Care/Nurture with Nature, a home-based program, opened a new facility about a year ago that enabled her to add 32 high-quality slots [two separately licensed programs]. The $28,000 in funding from United Way was used for a nature-based play yard in back and equipment inside the two newer programs.

She now serves 65 children in three buildings that house four licensed programs; all have Level 3 or 4 rankings in Paths to Quality, and all will eventually be level 4.

The Vigo County School Corp. has also been working to expand pre-k programming and offer quality child care for employees, Fenton said. "This is the first year we've provided infant/toddler care for employees" at the Booker T. Washington facility. The fee is $175 per week and the program must be self-sustaining.

In addition, the district offers pre-k/child care programs serving 3- and- 4-year-olds at Lost Creek, Riley, West Vigo High School and Booker T. Washington, programs that serve district employees and community residents if space is available. The fee is $125 per week and the program must be self-sustaining.

The district also offers half-day, pre-K at 10 Title 1 sites (20 programs — morning and afternoon); federal Title 1 funds are earmarked for schools in poverty and pay for those programs.

Last year, the district served 470 three- and four-year-olds in the pre-k programs and this year, it is serving 20 infant/toddlers up to age 2.

Out of 14 sites serving young children, 10 have already qualified for level 3 in Paths to Quality and the others are currently in the process.

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