Luwillis Canada remembers starting her childcare business without a single child to care for. Canada found resources and information she needed through Educare, an initiative with a twofold mission: give child care providers the skills to succeed in business while they help children in their neighborhoods enter school ready to learn. Last year providers in the Educare initiative served more than 2,300 families with high quality options for early childhood education. During the same period, 50 Educare providers earned their state credentials, increasing the number of children they could enroll, and another 120 women entered the program.
Educare began in the wake of welfare reform, when public policy was focused on finding jobs for mothers, not on where their children would spend their days. About 75 percent of children in the Kansas City area under age five are in some form of non-parental care each week. In low-income communities, parents lack many choices for early childhood education. They often turn to neighbors and relatives in arrangements that can be fragile. Educare providers give working parents the security of knowing their children are in stable, safe environments that stimulate their children to develop and learn. At the same time, Educare has helped make home-based early childhood education into a viable employment option for people coming off welfare.
In Educare, childcare providers begin by learning to comply with city and state regulations. Workshops on business skills and planning give providers the skills they need to succeed. The next aspect of Educare’s classes focuses on creating childcare environments that support learning. Providers of early childhood education in Kansas City, Fort Osage, Independence, North Kansas City, Grandview and Raytown attend workshops on child development, cognition, motor skills and behavior problems.
“Educare helps me develop a curriculum that gets children ready for school,” says Canada, who now runs a childcare center with 50 children and nine employees. Canada creates daily and weekly lesson plans that are woven into every aspect of her center. If the subject is the alphabet, then there are alphabet books, puzzles and blocks throughout her center. Older children write in a journal about their trips to the circus or zoo. Younger children eat alphabet soup with Canada. “I also encourage parents to read at least one book a week with their child,” says Canada. “I’m always looking for more time to talk with them about how they can teach their children at home.”
Educare is an initiative of Kansas City’s Local Investment Commission (LINC). A citizen-driven community collaborative, LINC invests approximately $10 million from state, local, public and private sources in low-income neighborhoods. LINC coordinates initiatives to provide employment to those on welfare, create new businesses in the central city and improve the delivery of human services to change the lives of families and children.
Educare is a 2003 Honoree of Families Count, the national honors program that recognizes organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families struggling to survive in tough neighborhoods.