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Early childcare and education

- News-Examiner

Fayette County has only two child care programs that provide services at the higher levels of a national rating system, although a third early learning program is on a path to reach that goal by this fall. 

That's concerning to Carrie Bale, the consultant working with the Fayette County Early Childhood Learning Coalition. She is hopeful the community might work to add more higher quality early childhood learning centers. The existing programs are home-based; Magic Moments, a non-home-based center run by the Fayette County School Corp., is closing.

Working through the Fayette Community Foundation, she is guiding strategic planning work taking place to help ensure the best future possible for the community's youngest residents.

From infant to age three are the most critical development periods, Bale said, when the brain is developing the fastest. She sees a large underserved population in that age group.

Bale has organized task forces to deal with specific areas of concern. A task force that will look at local needs and try to develop plans to better meet them will meet on May 20.

"Our goal is to come together and plan out ways to improve our early childcare and education to higher levels, and maybe open more year-round childcare facilities," Bale said. "It is going to take the whole community to figure out how best to support families with young, so they can work and/or go to school and we look forward or helping to figure out what the best solutions for Fayette County are."  

Two existing home-based programs, Country Blessings Childcare and Tender Care Day Care, have a Level 3 certification in the Paths to Quality rating system. God's Little Blessings Early Learning Center, affiliated with Calvary Baptist Church, is currently at Level 2 but is on track to reach Level 3 by September, according to Vi Sarmiento, director.

Paths to Quality is a four-tier voluntary rating system, with Level 1 indicating that centers meet basic health and safety standards. Level 2 requires a structured educational program and Level 3 adds a planned curriculum and trained professionals. Level 4 requires national accreditation.

Tender Care had been Level 4 until 2018, but decided to forego national accreditation.

The first meeting of the Early Childhood Care and Education Task Force will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 20, at the Fayette County Public Library, 828 N. Grand Ave. This group will look at the needs of families in Fayette County. Over the following months, the group will develop strategies to help meet those needs.

"I would anticipate from the data that having access to more high quality childcare spots for infants, toddlers and two years will be a focus for the task force," Bale stated in an email. The meeting is open to the public and parents with young children are encouraged to attend.

One of Bale's concerns is that Level 3 programming is not widely available all year round and it is especially limited for youngsters under age 3. While the existing early learning centers do offer year-round programming starting with infants, public school-based programs are for ages 3 and up and operate on a schedule similar to the Fayette County School Corp., which is not in session year-round.

Head Start offered by Fayette County School Corporation operates at a Level 3 during school hours. The Fayette County School Corporation has invested in the expansion of high quality preschool for 4-5 year olds through the Title 1 program, which is offered at no cost.

Magic Moments pre-school program has been operated by the Fayette County School Corporation for many years and is a Level 3 program. Citing financial losses, the school corporation is closing that preschool center in May and its daycare program in July. It had not offered services for children under the age of 2 for several years, according to Scott Collins, school superintendent.

Bale has formed four task forces under the Fayette County Early Childhood Learning Coalition: Supporting Families, Early Childhood Care and Education (Child Care and Preschool), Health and Wellness (Prenatal through childhood) and Supportive Communities. These groups are meant to help develop a community strategic plan to ensure the success of young childcare and education.

"In order to best support working families they need to have access to high quality child care year round options from birth through age 12," Bale said.