Tribes early learning program offers solutions during childcare shortage
By Amelia Dickson, Puyallup Tribal Descendent
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, families across the United States have been left without reliable childcare. Puyallup Tribal families haven’t been spared, with the Grandview Early Learning Center closing in late-March to keep children, employees, families and the community safe from the virus.
An estimated 550,000 children statewide are currently without childcare, and about 18 percent of childcare centers across Washington have closed, according to the nonprofit Childcare Aware.
The problem is disproportionally affecting mothers, who are increasingly leaving the workforce to take care of children.
But Grandview Director David Turnipseed has a plan to solve the childcare problem: If kids can’t come to Grandview, childcare will come to them.
Grandview recently began running an advertisement encouraging people to apply for “contracted in-home childcare” positions. The providers would be hired by the Tribe to care for children in the safety of their family’s homes, Turnipseed explained.
“The point is to support people getting childcare,” Turnipseed said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”
With this option, qualifying Puyallup families could hire retired or out-of-work family members, neighbors or friends to come into their homes and look after their children.
About the program
Grandview is funded by a federal Child Care and Development Fund grant, and serves about 100 children from birth to age 12.
This grant also funds the Tribe’s childcare assistance program, which allows qualifying families to use in-home childcare or another licensed center.
With Grandview closed, the center’s families are eligible for the childcare assistance program – but many aren’t taking advantage of it so far, Turnipseed said.
There are several childcare openings available at other licensed centers, and Grandview staff keep a running list of those openings. However, many parents are still hesitant to send their kids to a childcare center – particularly one that isn’t Grandview.
“If families are going to use a childcare center, they want it to be Grandview,” Turnipseed said. “But we want to keep our families and staff safe, and opening up is not the best way to do that.”
So, the best option for now is in-home childcare.
Turnipseed said he’s surprised at how few families have tried to use the childcare assistance program. He thinks that’s likely because families can’t find an in-home childcare provider, or because the rates previously offered by the program weren’t enough to cover an in-home provider.
Grandview’s ad is aimed at solving the first problem. The barriers to use the program are relatively low. For example, in-home providers must pass a background check and take a CPR class.
Turnipseed said he hopes the ad will encourage families to use someone they already know – such as a family member, neighbor or friend – as an in-home provider.
These providers can also help if parents are working from home, prepping meals, helping with online learning or generally taking care of the kids.
There’s also relief coming for the financial side of the problem. As of Oct. 1, the rates for both licensed and non-licensed providers will increase substantially. The Child Care and Development Fund grant will cover those increases.
Information about applying for an in-home childcare provider position can be found on Grandview’s section at www.PuyallupTribe-nsn.gov.
About Grandview Early Learning Center
Turnipseed explained that the Grandview Early Learning Center takes a unique and special approach to childcare.
The center features a large outdoor playground – and teachers spend as much time outside with children as possible, following the philosophy of former director Peggy McCloud:
“Anything that can be done inside can be done outside.”
The center also focuses on language revitalization, with staff in all classrooms using the Twulshootseed language. The emphasis on language and culture makes Grandview a “uniquely Puyallup early learning center,” Turnipseed said.
Grandview also prioritizes social-emotional learning, and the “trauma-informed” conscious discipline system.
The center’s staff are doing their best to continue that work and learning online. But it’s a struggle – particularly with the younger kids. Turnipseed said teachers are prepping weekly activities and sending them home.
For example, one teacher sent home a copy of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”and a gardening kit. The teacher, students and their families read the book and gardened together over Zoom.
Primarily, staff is focusing on maintaining relationships and supporting parents rather than the academics. The center is still providing families with all of the meals their children would have received from the center, Turnipseed said.
Grandview is also taking advantage of the closure to complete a long-planned renovation. Currently, the center consists of two buildings with separate entrances. But soon, Grandview will have one centralized front entrance, limiting access and improving safety.
The renovation will also add two new classrooms, with space for 30 additional students, Turnipseed said.
The estimated completion date is March of 2021.
In the meantime, Turnipseed is looking for ways to expand childcare access for Puyallup families, and hopes to have an announcement for that expansion in coming months.