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Douglas County child care team, fueled by grants, steps closer to final plan

The team is using a state Project Forward grant to draw together resources.

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Douglas County Project Growth team members discuss ways to sustain and expand existing child care in Douglas County as Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson, back table, left, looks on Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Superior Public Library. Members include, front from left: Dr. Christina Kintop, Kelly Peterson, Becky Sherf and Cheyenne Otto.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Efforts to increase access to quality, affordable child care in Douglas County are kicking into high gear with the help of a state grant.

Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson met with Douglas County team members Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Superior Public Library to gauge their needs.

“We really believe that out in communities across Wisconsin, it’s really incumbent on the community to solve through their own individual issues around child care," Amundson said. "And what we’re trying to do through this grant is to give folks the tools, the resources, a little bit of seed money, and put the right people at the table to help identify and solve through those issues."

Every community is different, she said, and the barriers that folks are trying to overcome to access high quality child care in Douglas County are not necessarily the same as in Madison or Milwaukee. Working with the national group First Children’s Finance, the planning phase of the grant brings representatives from different sectors together at the table to determine how to leverage their unique assets.

“We’ve got school district representatives, we’ve got the business community, we’ve got the chamber — everybody’s got a little bit of a different tool. First Children helps them unlock their own tools through their facilitated process,” Amundson said.

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Douglas County’s team was one of 28 to receive a Project Growth grant, which provides planning support and $75,000 in grant funding to evaluate, plan, sustain and expand existing child care, and to support new child care programs. Amundson called it a rapid push.

“It’s basically a four-month facilitated planning process, and then they have about a year of funding to work on some small seed projects,” the secretary said.

City Council President Jenny Van Sickle wrote the grant proposal after longtime child care providers David and Diana Deeth were forced to shutter their home-based day care, Oasis Kare, when they had to move out of their three-bedroom house due to HUD guidelines.

The Superior Housing Authority's eviction of long-time residents and child care providers doesn't sit well with families affected.

“After the housing authority evicted the Deeths and their child care center we got right to work building and distributing local grants to support all of the existing child care providers in the city with our ARPA funds, but I kept hearing over and over that we also needed to think long term, so in the evenings I started writing this grant,” she said.

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Members of the Douglas County Project Growth team listen turn back to listen to an update from a member during a meeting Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Superior Public Library. It was the third time the team met.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

The Aug. 25 meeting was the third of four the team will hold. By the end of the fourth meeting in October, Amundson said, they should have solidified a plan for moving forward. The Douglas County team has already set three goals:

  • Active promotion of current subsidies available to providers and developing a child care fund through the city.
  • Partner with UW-Superior/Northwoods to focus on the business side of child care. Also, provide dollars to help fund providers benefits, like health insurance and retirement.
  • Develop a messaging strategy to communicate the benefits to businesses, families who need child care, child care providers, the community as a whole, and to children of expanding access to quality care.

The team is interested in collaborating with businesses, colleges and entrepreneur resources to encourage students to pursue careers in child care, either as a provider or as a worker.
“We’re looking for the traditional students but also looking at the nontraditional student. You know, maybe somebody that would like to get into it, just has no idea,” said chiropractor Dr. Christina Kintop, a member of the group.

They also discussed items such as creating an easy to find online resource that clearly spells out both the support, resources and incentives that are available and how to find quality child care. When team member Stephanie Becken pulled up a website that’s supposed to provide information on child care for the area, Superior was not listed.

“You can’t actually find a child care on it,” she said. “(We) really want people to know, ‘Here’s your next step.’ It is so informative, but there’s no direction to service.”

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Members stressed the importance of creating a simple, consistent message across multiple platforms, including mailings and phone calls, and of sharing the message from different sources.

Becky Scherf, chief of staff for Superior’s mayor, said there could be additional funds available to help increase the number of child care spaces available.

“We were talking about ways to break down barriers for more unlicensed providers to get licensed,” Scherf said. “So we were talking about researching funding … to be able to help put fences in yards, smoke detectors in homes and bring homes up to code using this funding and possible buckets of money within the city that are meant for, with improvement.”

One additional perk of receiving the Project Growth grant is visibility on a state level.

“Because they’re our grantees, now I’m intimately familiar with some of their problems,” Amundson said. “I’ve got a to-do list of, you know, five things that I’m going to check out for them back at headquarters when I get back. So having access to the state, you know, from a technical assistance perspective to help you through this process, I think is another really great benefit.”

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.