Child Care Services works to boost early education

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Every weekday, at kitchens in Durham and Chapel Hill, breakfast, lunch and snacks are prepared for 900 children at 24 child-care centers in Durham and Orange counties.

At Meredith College in Raleigh, 25 infant-toddler teachers are enrolled in a course to improve their teaching.

In Beaufort, Chowan, Hertford and Hyde counties in eastern North Carolina, at-risk kids from birth to age two are enrolled in a pilot program modeled on the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

All those efforts are the work of the Child Care Services Association, a Chapel Hill nonprofit created by the 1999 merger of agencies in Chapel Hill and Durham that both were formed in 1974 with United Way funding to improve early childhood education.

Operating with an annual budget of $30 million and a staff of over 100 people, Child Care Services helps parents find child care programs, and operates scholarship and wage-supplement programs for child care professionals throughout North Carolina and in other states that have helped those professionals improve their skills and stay in their jobs longer. Those programs have become models for other states.

It also provides a range of local services in the Triangle and throughout the state and U.S.

The agency, which receives the bulk of its funds in the form of federal grants through the state, as well as funds from local Partnerships for Children that operate Smart Start early childhood programs, has helped the parents of over 100,000 children in the Triangle find quality child care that fits the parents’ needs to attend school or go to work, says Anna Carter, the Association’s president.

Its T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarships, piloted in 1990, help 3,500 North Carolina early care and education teachers a year take classes at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

“Teachers who have more education have classrooms where children have better outcomes,” says Carter, who joined Child Care Services in July after serving for 20 years in the state Division of Child Development and Early Education, most recently as deputy director.

Child Care Resources also has licensed that program to groups in 24 other states, and recently receive a $1 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., to do more innovative work in some of those states. A total of 120,000 early care and education teachers have received scholarships through that program.

Salary supplements through the agency’s Child Care Wages program, launched in 1994 in Orange  County, boost the compensation for about 4,600 early care and education teachers and administrators throughout the state each year.

The supplement has helped reduce the turnover rate among the state’s estimated 30,000 early childhood teachers and administrators to 14 percent from 19 percent, Carter says.

Child Care Services, which this year has served almost one million meals to children in Orange and Durham counties, now hopes to expand its nutrition program to Wake County.

It also provides child care scholarships for parents in Durham County; technical assistance in Durham, Orange and Wake counties to help child care programs improve their services; and professional development workshops and courses in the Triangle for child care directors, teachers and home providers.

“There’s not a silver bullet,” Carter says, “for the variety of resources and supports that are needed to make sure children get that quality they need to succeed later in life.”

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