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Van Sickle: Work to support local child care providers, parents continues

We know there is still a lot of work ahead, but we’re not giving up.

David and Diana Deeth push Rocky Miller, 3, front left, and Clayton Heikkila, 7, on the swings at Oasis Kare.
David and Diana Deeth push Rocky Miller, 3, front left, and Clayton Heikkila, 7, on the swings at Oasis Kare, the day care they run in their Superior home Tuesday, Jan. 18. The Deeths' situation spurred local officials to find ways to provide relief to local child care providers. Councilor Jenny Van Sickle spearheaded the effort.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — “We need someone to stand up for us.”

“No pressure,” I thought, hanging up the call with David and Diana Deeth. I looked at my smattering of notes: Superior Housing Authority, eviction in Allouez, child care for 11 families.

032219.N.ST.ElexVan Sickle.jpg
Superior 2nd District Councilor Jenny Van Sickle
Contributed / Jenny Van Sickle

At first, I thought this had to be a misunderstanding, an administrative error. After months of trying to work with the Superior Housing Authority, the Deeths were removed from public housing, lost their home and neighborhood of 30 years, their only form of income and are still homeless at the whim of the authority.

Our community lost a valuable resource and a dozen families had to find new arrangements for their children while worrying about threats to their own household stability in the wake of losing their child care.

I’ve lost advocating for issues before. I was determined to respond in a way that would attempt to lift up an entire sector. The Deeths' experience was just one part of an industry that was suffering far beyond their individual circumstances.

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We all kept saying, child care crisis—but what did that mean?

The crisis meant everything from wages, education, state requirements, transportation, availability, waitlists, space, cost, and more. It also meant paperwork, reporting, subsidies, technology and training, federal food reimbursement, and an aging, female-dominated workforce with no benefits like health care.

During my research, another child care facility in Superior announced they would be closing due to staffing shortages, resulting in 60 children whose parents needed to find new care—somewhere with new teachers, new routines and new peers. This kind of abrupt social displacement has been proven to negatively impact their academic scores.

I called everyone I could think of at the state, other elected officials across Wisconsin, enrolled in training to study national models and programs that were being tested for staff recruitment and retention.

I talked to experts, employers and advocates about what could work in rural Northern Wisconsin. Our citizens work across the Twin Ports and our employees live outside the city. I knew I had to think bigger than Superior.

I also spent a lot of evenings talking to the Deeths. At times, Diana’s voice would crack with despair, “What did I ever do wrong?” Her questions are still valid and bear a heavy burden.

When Superior’s federal allocation budget came up for discussion, it suddenly occurred to me the council was looking at a real opportunity to have a positive impact for child care providers and families. Another round of phone calls, meetings, emails and a great deal of help from financial advisors with the city administration, we finally had an application process mostly created.

The resistance to earmark the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant money exclusively for child care providers was weak and too last minute to gain any traction, and the proposal passed unanimously.

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Thanks to the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act, $200,000 of short-term help was secured. I was told that we were the first city in Wisconsin to carve out early education grants from ARPA funds, so we had to make sure the application was simple to both minimize bureaucratic fatigue on providers and to ensure the program was easy to replicate in other communities that wanted to utilize their federal allocation in the same way.

The state’s Project Growth grant program was one I heard about during my research, so while I was working to secure the local ARPA allocation and working with the authority, I started to work on a Dream Up grant.

We went big and created an impact area that encompassed all of Douglas County for our Dream Up application.

The application didn’t feel too difficult, so I started plugging away at it. I consulted business minds who agreed child care access was the lynch pin to having a secure workforce. We also noted women were leaving the workforce at a rate five times that of men.

I felt confident we could prove that we were serious about our dedication to the work and that our needs were urgent and interconnected—enough to be one of only 30 communities in Wisconsin that would be selected.

All applications are in, and announcements about awardees will be out any day.

We know there is still a lot of work ahead, but we’re not giving up.

Jenny Van Sickle is president of the Superior City Council.

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