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Transforming early learning centers into resource hubs to meet the health, food, employment, and housing needs of families.

Equip early learning centers to optimize their unique ability to meet the basic security needs of families during the pandemic and after.

Photo of Lauren Kennedy
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Early learning centers already serve as hubs for meeting the food, housing, material, and health and wellness needs of children and families in their surrounding communities. For many vulnerable families, COVID-19 has caused significant financial insecurity, threatened housing security, and significantly increased needs for health-care, food, and other material goods assistance. Early learning centers are well suited to anchor initiatives to meet the needs of children and families; they should be equipped with the funding and manpower to do so. Bolstering the coordination and direct service capacity of early learning centers not only will alleviate immediate community need, it will also strengthen the childcare and early education system once the crisis has passed.

State and federal governments should formalize and fund the role that many early learning providers play with respect to meeting the essential needs of children and families. As they do with health care providers and K-12 institutions, government agencies should contract with early learning providers to meet the full scope needs of children and families. In the interim, philanthropy should invest in equipping early learning centers to act as resource hubs, to provide proof of concept.

Far before the pandemic hit, early learning providers have worked to provide wraparound support to children and families – though with little funding and limited capacity to do so. During these uncertain times, these same providers have played critical, but unacknowledged roles, in ensuring that families have access to food, shelter, and other material goods. Indeed, many early learning centers have proven to excel at procuring and delivering food and other material goods: as smaller entities, they are well-positioned to be able to identify and respond to the unique needs of individual families.

Investing in early learning centers as resource hubs not only will continue to benefit families in need – it will also provide these businesses with much needed revenue during periods of closure. With closure of child care programs due to COVID-19, the early education and child care sector has been pushed to the brink of collapse. Revenue streams, whether in the form of government subsidies or in private fees paid by parents, have been cut off, forcing early learning providers to lay off their staff and reckon with whether they can continue to pay rent and utility bills. Many providers are in danger of financial insolvencies and of going out of business altogether.

In the immediate, philanthropic and government investment in early learning providers as hubs for procurement and distribution of goods and services that meet basic community needs could help keep providers in business, even while early learning programs are dormant. It stands as an efficient, impactful opportunity to best meet the needs of children and families while also keeping early educators (who, in the immediate, could serve as the procurers and distributors of food and material goods) employed while child care programs are closed.

This investment will continue to generate returns, well after the pandemic subsides. As school closures are lifted and families begin to return to group care settings, it can be expected that vulnerable families may face heightened financial, food, and housing insecurity – underscoring the need to equip early learning centers now with the resources they will need to be able to provide wraparound services and meet the full scope needs of children and families.

With respect to first steps, particularly when facilities are close, investment in technology offers an opportunity to act quickly to equip early learning centers to act as procurement, distribution, and needs resolution hubs. For example, in partnership with early learning centers and with community health centers, Neighborhood Villages has been working to develop an information sharing system that, as appropriate and within the bounds of confidentiality protections and preferences, could track referral information for individual families being supported by multiple organizations.

 Investment in early learning providers’ capacity to meet the full-scope needs of children and families should happen now and should continue once early learning programs re-open. Philanthropic support or government reimbursement for positions at early learning centers dedicated to community outreach and delivery of wraparound services are an economically efficient and highly impactful way to reach families. Early learning providers see families every day; as a result, they are uniquely positioned to address needs quickly and to prevent vulnerabilities from transitioning into crises, particularly with respect to housing security and eviction prevention. Additionally, given projections for a long period of economic recession, once the crisis has passed, there will continue to be significant need for expanded social service capacity.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

The undervaluing and underfunding of the child care and early education sector must be left in the past. Pre-Covid-19, the child care and early education sector was unstable; post-Covid-19, it will no longer exist as the country once knew it. Some projections suggest that the United States may see a 50 percent reduction in the nation’s child care capacity – further exacerbating inequities related to access and quality of care. The sector as it was must be left in the past. Rebuilding a stronger child care sector is imperative – not only to restarting the nation’s economy but also to ensuring that recovery delivers economic security and opportunity to all families. Access to child care will determine who can return to work and how; the quality of care a child receives will impact lifelong learning and employment outcomes.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

Neighborhood Villages envisions a future in which all families have access to affordable, high quality child care. In service of this vision, Neighborhood Villages partners with child care centers in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to design and fund interventions that enhance a center’s capacity to provide wraparound resources to families.

Its partnership model takes a place-based approach to meeting family prosperity indicators: it facilitates co-location, at the child care center, of pre-existing programs that address health and wellness and economic security. Partner child care centers are transformed into neighborhood resource hubs where families can find all that they need, from child care to housing support, all in one place.

 The future of integrated investment in early childhood development ought to be anchored in the early education sector; this is where families are daily and where they have the trusting relationships that make the difference during times of crisis.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

Neighborhood Villages is currently piloting its neighborhood resource hub model in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. It is actively scaling in the Greater Boston neighborhoods of East Boston, the South End, and Roxbury. These neighborhoods are home to populations that are disproportionately low or moderate income and are majority minority. They are all considered child care deserts, where demand for quality child care far exceeds supply.

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Photo of Virginia Brackett
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Lauren, your proposal contains so many important points about the potential value of early-learning centers as resource hubs. Selecting one of your several points, the emphasis on the need for child care is especially crucial as schools may be offering half day sessions in order to reduce the number of children and the possibility of virus contamination and spread. Families in which all parents/caregivers, etc. work will be unable to accommodate such a system without sound child care resources, and a place that goes beyond offering babysitting services to become a resource center for all ages would prove invaluable.