A Request Grounded in Community Need
The Collaboration for Early Childhood’s Proposal: Meeting the Needs of the Oak Park Early Childhood Community
The Collaboration’s proposal seeks to stabilize a child care industry that is in crisis and envisions a system in Oak Park that is sustainable and revitalized. Our proposal puts forth actions to increase support for families enrolled in home visiting programs; provide mental health and wellness support to early childhood professionals; infuse classrooms with a suite of resources to address social emotional needs. Early learning programs are not only places where children learn and play. They are also small businesses. Our proposal includes support for early childhood programs in accessing grants and resources. The proposal has five prongs that focus on the five different areas of the early care and education system mentioned above:
Children and Families – Home Visiting Support
ARPA funds will further close gaps for some of Oak Park’s most fragile families, specifically by supporting families enrolled in home visiting programs to access essential supplies for their children’s care, health, and education.
Classroom – Classroom Enhancement Support
We will help preschool educators to access social-emotional learning resources that will enable them to bring highly interactive, hands-on tools to the classroom. Preparation for this elevated level of practice will involve learning materials and children’s literature around social and emotional development; adaptive materials for children with developmental needs; and professional development for adults around the proper development and use of a social emotional curriculum.
Preschool Program – Recruitment/ Retention Support
ARPA funds will support programs in their recruitment and retention efforts and will support community initiatives to promote child enrollment in local early childhood programs. The ability to retain staff is important, because young children require consistency of caregivers, settings, and experiences to have a strong foundation from which to grow and develop. Staff turnover or children moving from one program to another because of quality issues and/or staffing shortages means that young children do not have the benefit of that necessary consistency.
Early Childhood Community – Mental Health Support
Our focus on mental health support is on relieving some of the emotional load of early childhood teaching and care by offering general wellness, mindfulness, and support to mitigate significant mental health events and emergencies. While intensive mental health services and counseling are certainly needed for families and people working in child care, we are relying on the mental health providers in our community to provide ongoing counselling and crisis management. We are proposing a referral system for mental health support (similar to the coordinated intake referrals we already provide for home visiting or public preschool guidance), where we build capacity in the community to offer this support, and subsidizing these services for the early childhood community.
Oak Park Small Business Community – Sustainability Support
Early childhood programs are not only places of learning, they are small businesses run by individuals whose first priority is the health and safety of the children in their care. This prong of our proposal will bring on a dedicated staff person to serve as a point person for funding opportunities for which the child care industry is eligible. Under the Collaboration for Early Childhood, this person could help relieve the burden on program administrators who are already stretched thin and assist them in finding funding for special projects, site enhancements, and a variety of other fundable pursuits.
You can learn more about each prong, the project timeline, and how it fits into the federally mandated allocation categories in our full proposal linked below:
The Proposal Process
In the fall of 2021, the Village of Oak Park opened up a conversation with the community regarding recommendations for the disbursement of federal dollars through the American Rescue Act (ARPA). The Collaboration for Early Childhood, along with other community partners, responded. We started by surveying our community to hear directly from families and child care providers. Informed by this direct feedback, we put forth a proposal for ARPA funding at the end of 2021 that translates the priorities we heard into five focus areas.
We were invited to share more about our proposal at the January Village Board Meeting. You can reference the Meeting Materials including the full slate of ARPA proposals and a summary document here. In a follow-up document, we answered questions around data measurement, who would benefit from the plan, and how our proposal aligns with the Village Board’s goals and core values.
On Monday, March 14, 2022 the Village of Oak Park Trustees voted unanimously to fully fund the proposal that the Collaboration submitted to provide COVID-19 relief in our community. It is another clear acknowledgment of the importance of early childhood here in Oak Park and we are honored to work with our community partnerships to support the resilience of our children and families. In the near future, it will result in significant support for our community, at a time when people will need it to achieve recovery. The grant will run from July 1, 2022 to July 2026.