Listening Sessions gather data from Child Care Providers

September 25, 2023

Feedback solicited from the Humboldt child care community

Preschool teacher with musical instruments & group of young children
A group of small children with a male teacher sitting on the floor indoors in the classroom, playing musical instruments.

The First 5 Humboldt ECCE (Early Child Care and Education Committee) convened five Listening Sessions throughout Humboldt County, between October and April 2023. Two more are being scheduled for Fall 2023.

What is the Early Child Care and Education Advisory Committee?

The ECCE Committee serves to advise the First 5 Commission on policies and resources affecting the Early Childhood community and is made up of members of the community involved in direct services, including Family Child Care and Center-based child care Providers, representatives from higher education early childhood departments, and Commission representatives. With their deep collective knowledge and experience base, the Committee is uniquely positioned to advise the Commission on issues and policies affecting the field.

The Committee wanted to meet the child care providers where they were – in their communities. They provided a meal at each session – sometimes meeting at a restaurant, other times using a local catering service, and asked people to come together to share success stories, needs, concerns, and challenges. In the changing budget landscape of First 5s, we no longer have large funds to draw from to offer support and resources, but we do have considerable ability to advocate for and collaborate with programs, businesses, and other agencies, provide networking connections, and hold space for generating ideas and creating solutions.

While some overarching themes came out of all the listening sessions, each community had a unique set of needs and concerns based on their population and community culture. The first one was held in Fortuna for the Spanish-speaking child care community on 10/29/22, with 25 attendees. Then on 11/18/22, we went to Hoopa where we had 23 participants. Although we had scheduled the next one earlier in the winter, snowstorms caused us to cancel and reschedule for March, so it wasn’t until 3/29/23 that we held the next one for the Southern Humboldt ECE Community with 15 attendees. Spring must have been a really busy time for everyone because the session in McKinleyville on 4/18/23 had 9 attendees, and in Eureka on 4/26/23 there were only 12. We are currently in the process of scheduling two more, with the next one in Willow Creek, tentatively scheduled for October 25, 2023, and another in Fortuna in November.

Common themes that came up at the Listening Sessions:

Staffing Issues

All communities are experiencing issues with fully staffing childcare programs:

  • Not enough qualified people apply for open positions. (Community Care Licensing, which oversees childcare licensing, requires teachers to have certain levels of education, and for classrooms to maintain ratios of teachers to children that ensure safety and quality education.)
  • Directors and other support staff have been pulled into the classroom to maintain ratios, classrooms have remained closed or under-enrolled because there aren’t enough teachers, and many teachers leave shortly after being hired because the work is hard, and they can’t make a living wage. Even at the college child care programs, when students love the work and have a real aptitude for it, they choose other professions due to the low pay in ECE. (It should be noted that this is and has been an ongoing issue in the field of ECE and was only made worse by the pandemic).
  • Because the education qualifications are high, and the pay is low (sometimes not even enough for people to pay for housing in the area where they work) child care programs have a hard time attracting and retaining staff. Although this was a universal concern across communities, it is less of an issue for Family Child Care Providers since they themselves are the primary staff person and often have family members who provide staff support. But, when they are the owners of their own businesses, they have to pay extra for retirement benefits, health insurance, pensions, etc. (which many cannot afford to do and thus go without).
  • Another obstacle to attracting teachers to the ECE field is the many new Transitional Kindergarten classrooms being opened at area schools. Although a boon to families of 4-year-olds who can send them to school for free, it is funneling teachers out of ECE and into the elementary schools because those teachers can earn, in some cases, twice as much as they were making in their ECE classrooms.
  • In addition to the teacher drain, this means that the preschool population is much younger; in some cases, they end up with a classroom full of toddlers and some classrooms are not even age-appropriate for the younger group since they were designed as preschool spaces. (Family child care has traditionally more often been a space of mixed-age grouping). On top of this is the concern within the ECE field that TK classrooms ensure Developmentally Appropriate Practice and don’t just try to provide a typical Kindergarten experience for 4-year-olds.

Children’s & family’s needs

Re-opening after Covid closures, or returning to full enrollment after limited Covid enrollment, has been challenging.

  • For some children, this is their first time in group care and interacting with a group of other children regularly. Childcare providers are seeing children who don’t know how to play and interact with other children and parents who are extra-protective since they are fearful of the global pandemic. Teachers say they are spending more time than usual teaching socialization skills and even how to play. For some families, COVID-19 interrupted routines so teachers are seeing children stay up later and arrive at school late. Challenging behaviors seem to be on the rise as well.
  • Many families did not go to the doctor for Well Child checkups during the COVID crisis, so children are coming to childcare with undiagnosed needs and concerns and parents are asking for help.
  • Families are stressed. Loss of jobs or income has impacted many and recovery is slow. In some areas, the industries relied on by whole communities have collapsed, leaving them reeling as they try to forge a new path. Many families who paid out of pocket for childcare are now only able to access it through subsidies and vouchers, which means fewer resources for child care providers.
Adult women seated at banquet table
First 5 ED Mary Ann Hansen, ECCE Committee member and founding Commissioner Sydney Fisher Larson, and Beginnings Preschool Teacher and Director Michelle Palazzo and Julia Andersen at the Southern Humboldt listening session March 29, 2023

Staff Support

In many cases, we heard that the staff they do have are in need of various kinds of support. For some, it may be personal wellness, and in other cases, they are looking for specific training to support their work in the classroom.

  • We heard the need for “Back to basics” training for new staff: teamwork, positive communication, the importance of child development, and why we do early childhood education.
  • Others are looking for specific training to help their staff work with children with autism and those who are in the foster care system, meet the mandated reporter requirements, learn about Trauma-Informed Practices, and complete assessments such as the DRDP (Desired Results Developmental Profile).
  • A focus on staff wellness and self-care seems to support retention. When staff feel appreciated, seen, heard, and supported, they want to stay and be part of the team.
  • Staff need support to further their education. Some may need encouragement to sign up for and attend classes and trainings and in the case of Spanish speakers, classes in Spanish. Classes offered on Saturdays are also appreciated. We heard that childcare providers have brushed up on computer skills to take classes online and also that some may need support with technology – both procuring equipment and navigating online education.

What the Early Childhood Education community would like First 5 Humboldt to advocate for and support them with:

  • Help to navigate the educational system (applying for classes, accessing interpretation, furthering degrees and permits)
  • Support for mentoring, job shadowing, job fairs, and other publicity efforts to recruit (and incentivize!) teachers to join the field.
  • Affordable housing
  • Support for Spanish-speaking families
  • Create an “info-corner” in college classrooms and partner agencies with flyers, resources, how-to sheets, training, career pathway steps, and contacts to get more information.
  • Parents need flexible workplaces, increased parental leave, and family-friendly employers so shifts stay consistent and workers won’t lose their jobs due to childcare issues.
  • Connect us with grants, support, and inspiration for meeting the needs of families and children in a post-Covid world: outdoor classrooms, structures, and equipment, trauma-informed strategies for working with families and children after a crisis, and general support for business skills, technology, marketing, and networking.
  • Emergency supplies and readiness support (Humboldt County had earthquakes, fires, snowstorms, and power outages this year)
  • Renter advocacy for Family Childcare homes.
  • Support for working with children with special needs, especially those on the Autism spectrum.
  • Building Relationships with families
  • Staff wellness, self-care, and appreciation