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Child Care Academy addresses Wayne County worker shortage

Editor’s Note: This story was republished courtesy of the Goldsboro News Argus.

Partnership for Children of Wayne County is taking a novel approach to the dearth of child care workers and offering free training and certifications to those entering the field.

A two-week Child Care Academy will be held on the Wayne Community College campus Jan. 22 through Feb. 2, from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

This marks the first outing for the concept, designed to attract those without experience and equip them for the profession, says Valerie Wallace, executive director of the Partnership.

“We know that there’s vacancies and child care facilities are struggling trying to find staff to work in their facilities,” she said. “They have to have a person in that classroom in order to stay open. They’re scrambling to get folks training.”

As such, collaborating on the training with WCC, which boasts a strong early childhood education program, makes this event even more impressive.

“Staff from here (Partnership) and the early childhood department at Wayne will help teach each of these classes so when a person completes the trainings, they will have all the certifications, no cost to them,” Wallace said. “Typically, there is a cost associated with training but we’re doing everything for free for them.”

Providers in a regulated facility are required by the state to have training every year, typically out of their own pocket. Costs can range from $10 to $25 to $75. Wallace said her staff did a rough estimate of what a program like the Child Care Academy might cost and it was markedly higher.

“I think when we tallied it up it was over like $300 to $400 that they’re not having to pay out of pocket in order to have these courses,” she said.

With many facilities and child care providers challenged to find “qualified staff,” there isn’t always the luxury of time or securing those with the training or experience already in hand, Wallace said.

Mimi Steed at Eastern Wayne Elementary School shares a snack with her students. Photo Courtesy of News Argus

“Folks are hiring people that don’t have any background experience in child care,” she said. “Not to say that they’re not good workers, and we need those folks, but having a retail background is different than working with children.”

The elements needed range from the approach in the classroom to understanding a child’s development and challenging behaviors, child abuse and trauma and safety. These will all be covered in this free training — plus CPR and first aid, medication administration and observation at WCC child care.

“They’re getting a crash course on how to get a job in the early childhood profession and all of this is being done free of charge to the provider,” Wallace said.

The field is such that jobs are prevalent, Wallace said. Parents need to work and rely on quality child care to pick up the slack.

“We need infant/toddler care, preschool teachers are needed, we need teachers at every level, (birth) to (age) 5,” Wallace said. “Every time you turn around, somebody’s got a job posting.

“We’re covering that by doing basic school-age care. We’re going 0-12 so everything that we cover will be to work in child care — what are things you’re going to face, challenging behaviors, developmental milestones of children, playground safety and supervision, developmentally appropriate practices.”

The academy will also provide certification in adult, child and infant CPR, covering everything from communicable diseases to emergencies that can arise in a facility.

Efforts will also encompass future prospects for the participants, including apprenticeships and higher education in the profession.

“There are opportunities for apprenticeships. We don’t want them to stop with just this. Consider getting a degree,” she said. “We want them to build a portfolio so what we’re hoping is that we will have for these folks is a listing of where there are staff vacancies.

“They’ll have a listing of the current regulated facilities and our goal will be to reach out to all these facilities after the first of the year and find out what openings they have. WCC will also provide them with a listing of educational opportunities — what courses do you have to have to get your early childhood education associate’s degree? What would you need to have to go into getting a four-year degree?”

There are also test-out options, she added.

“To be a lead teacher in child care, you have to have the credential one and two, but you can test out,” she said. “So we’re going to give them that opportunity to do right then, so they can go to work to be a lead teacher after having all of this information and testing out of that facility.”

The Child Care Academy, however is not an a la carte menu of courses, Wallace said. Participants are committing to the two-week program, which will also incorporate resume-building, professionalism and the interview process.

Being that this is an inaugural event, Wallace said her agency does not know what to expect in the way of responses.

“We were thinking if we could get eight people we’d go ahead and move forward with this,” she said. “We’re at 15, which is wonderful because when they are done, we’re hoping these 15 will go get employed with a child care facility.

“My thoughts are that if this goes over well, then we’ll offer another academy a few months after this one.”

Sheha Waters, owner and N.C. Pre-K teacher at Little Water, reads to her students. Photo Courtesy of News Argus

The cap on the Child Care Academy is set at 20 students, determined mostly by the size of the meeting room and number of computers.

The registration deadline is Jan. 16 and if the interest exceeds the space, a waiting list will be set up.

Wallace reiterated that this event is not open to someone currently working in a child care facility or with any previous experience. Sessions for those demographics may be offered at another time, as the Partnership and WCC typically do.

“What we’re trying to do is bring people into the profession by offering these classes to them,” Wallace said. “Hopefully, we’ll graduate 20 people who will be able to go work in child care and have the credentials already on the front end.”

The underlying motivation behind all this is the prevalent need for quality workers and facilities catering to the youngest segment of the population. All ages are in need of teachers, and shoring up the profession will just help everyone — the potential employee as well as the parents and their child.

“I know other counties have implemented this (model), that’s where we got the idea,” Wallace said, citing such counties as Catawba and Buncombe as blazing the proverbial trail. “This county’s very fortunate to have WCC because they’re so supportive of anything related to young children and does want to make early childhood a focus.”

Wallace is also seeking a couple of things from the public to help the training succeed.

“We are looking for some sponsorships,” she said. “We would like to provide these folks some snacks because it goes through the lunch hour and we don’t have funds for that, if somebody would like to make a donation or bring us some snacks and things.”

To register, call Crystal Heath at 919-735-3371 Ext. 227. For more info, contact Kimberly Barnes at 919-735-3371 Ext. 226.

Phyllis Moore

Phyllis Moore covers education and health affairs for The Goldsboro News-Argus.