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Central Oregon

Advocates of improved C.O. child care access report major early progress

Better Together High Desert ESD

Short-term solutions in place; $750,000 secured

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) In a rapid response to support families, a team of educators, service providers and business and civic leaders came together in August under the leadership of Better Together to respond to the region’s evolving child care crisis created by the pandemic. 

In only four weeks, they have identified a short-term solution and secured $750,000 to launch work in Deschutes County. As most schools in Central Oregon kick off the year with Comprehensive Distance Learning, many families are struggling to balance work and child care while also supporting their kids who are attending school at home.

By the end of September, some of the region’s most experienced out-of-school child care organizations will be expanding their hours, calendars, service locations and expertise to accommodate the needs of local families while schools are operating under Comprehensive Distance Learning.

This expanded capacity will provide five days of full-day school age child care each week for nearly 1,000 children ages 5-10 at 26 sites in Deschutes County.

The sites will be operating in Sisters, Tumalo, Redmond, Bend, Sunriver and La Pine, through the end of December (12 weeks). Work is also underway to expand sites in Jefferson County as conditions permit.

The first organizational partners include:

Boys and Girls Clubs of Bend (Bend: 2 locations)

Bend Park and Recreation District (Bend: 14 locations)

La Pine Park & Recreation District (La Pine: 1 location)

High Desert Museum (La Pine: 1 location)

Camp Fire (Sunriver: 1 location)

REACH (Redmond: 1 location)

Champions (Redmond: 4 locations)

Sisters Park & Recreation District (Sisters: 1 location)

Circle of Friends (Sisters: 1 location)

“With roughly 12,000 children in K-5 across Deschutes County, and roughly 45% -- or 5,400 -- whose families qualify for free/reduced lunch, the need is huge,” said Becca Tatum, who has contracted with Better Together to lead the initiative.

“This program will focus on families with the highest need and our region’s essential workers. Our providers seek first to support families whose jobs do not permit work from home or flexible hours, who have limited disposable income, and who may have limited access to the internet for children to participate in at-home online learning," Tatum said. 

Through Better Together -- Central Oregon’s regional, cross-sector partnership, working collectively to improve education outcomes for children and youth from cradle to career – the initiative has secured $750,000 toward the full cost of programs, which is more than $2 million.

Additional funds have come from a combination of public and private donors, emergency and ongoing program funds, and fees for service. Community partners including schools, government organizations and non-profit partners have provided valuable space, in-kind staff and planning to make this effort a reality.

To date, Deschutes County commissioners have allocated $650,000 and United Way of Central Oregon has allocated $100,000, both entities designating funds from the federal CARES Act dollars to directly support vulnerable children and families impacted by COVID-related needs.

The funds are designed to support Deschutes County’s workforce by giving working families safe, engaging child care and academic support for their children while they are at work. 

“During this COVID-19 crisis, families need childcare and children need safe places to learn, play, and be with caring adults. As important, the experienced youth-serving partners will support extra learning assistance and technology access which families might not otherwise access for distance learning,” Tatum said.

Better Together said it is committed to catalyzing the collective solutions for children and families across Central Oregon and has been working with families and communities to quickly and deeply understand child care needs since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Throughout the research process, program staff have had a clear focus on children who are particularly vulnerable and affected by health scares and economic impacts; by family members sick or out of work; and by school closures and limited childcare resources, Tatum explained

“It was critical for us to first understand the impacts of spring distance learning, especially on high-need learners and low-income families. Better Together has a history of collective impact work across the region and were able to serve as a respected partner in this rapid-action situation, when our schools and community partners came to us for support. Our families can’t do this work alone, and our schools can’t either,” said Anna Higgins, chief strategy & innovation officer for HDESD and executive director for i4Education.

“It’s been remarkable to see this critical partnership come together to serve kids and families so quickly. We see this is an important step towards meeting Central Oregon’s broader, long-term child care needs,” Higgins explained. “We’re looking at this initiative as a nimble solution that can be adapted as the pandemic situation changes.”

The first youth-serving partners are expected to be operating this week with the others following close behind by the end of September. Families can check with the partners listed above for more information about availability.

While Better Together partners are working to create immediate solutions for school aged child care, other ongoing efforts to address the long-term child care needs of Central Oregon families have been underway since before the pandemic.

HDESD’s Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon, which serves Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is another regional cross-sector partnership working collectively to support parents of the region’s youngest children and establish a solid foundation for children’s long-term success. 

According to Early Learning Hub Director Brenda Comini, HDESD is currently coordinating enrollment for the Region’s first Preschool Promise programs which are publicly funded for 3- and 4-year-old children from families with income up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

“We are excited to expand high-quality, local and culturally-relevant early child care and education programs for families in Central Oregon. With Preschool Promise and Oregon PreK Head Start expansion, we expect to increase the regional preschool capacity to serve more than 750 children in our tri-county communities,” said Comini.

In addition, NeighborImpact’s Childcare Resources team actively works to grow Central Oregon’s network of quality early care and education providers with resources and support that help individuals become licensed and listed as providers. NeighborImpact also provides ongoing training and coaching to child care providers, supporting continuous quality improvement..

“During the pandemic, the NeighborImpact team has been helping child care providers keep their doors open and continue serving families in new ways, even as they navigate new rules and demands,” says Child Care Resources Director Karen Prow.  “We are also helping child care providers access grants and Personal Protective Equipment to meet their business needs as they adapt to the needs of our families and communities.”

The ultimate goal of all of the region’s child care advocates is to bring immediate solutions to families facing challenges while their kids are learning at home. At the same time, they hope to bring a new awareness to the long-term child care needs in our communities and build on the current engagement brought on by the pandemic. 

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About Better Together

Better Together actively works to improve the educational outcomes and well-being of young people through regional, cross-sector partnership and alignment. To learn more, visit our website at bettertogethercentraloregon.org.

About High Desert Education Service District

HDESD is a regional support system that links school districts in Central Oregon to state and national education resources. 

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