Editor's note: Experts agree that if we're serious about improving educational outcomes for children, we must start in the critical early years of a child's brain development. It's also a reality that kids from low-income families typically start school 1-2 years behind their peers, and many never catch up. Most often, these kids spend their days in programs that offer no educational opportunities, let alone meet basic safety and health standards.
As part of United Way's long-term plan to turn that around, we are working with child care ministries like Charity Child Care in Haughville, one of the most impoverished Indianapolis neighborhoods.
In December, Charity became the first child care ministry in the state to reach the highest level of achievement on Indiana’s Paths to QUALITY rating scale. United Way was among community partners who helped, investing a modest amount, about $10,000, for extraordinary returns, as Director Juaneka "Nikki" Ennis describes.
In October 2008, Charity Child Care had reached its peak enrollment of 200 children in its then 13- year history. Great things were happening! Children were being cared for in a loving manner and in a clean and safe environment. We screened and trained our caregivers and teachers. Overall, families were satisfied.
Remember the old saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it?” At Charity, we rejected that thinking, choosing to strive for an even higher quality of care because quite simply, our children deserve the best.
After researching Paths to Quality, a rating scale, we decided to pursue the highest level of quality. Everyone was on board to make the major changes needed.
First, we had to host an onsite, nine-month course though Ivy Tech State College so that 12 staff members could earn their Child Development Associate national accreditation We also needed to create an infant-toddler playground, improve the preschool and school age playgrounds; and purchase developmentally appropriate curriculum and play items to create learning interest centers in 12 classrooms.
These changes required teamwork from everyone - staff members, our governing church, and families. It also required help from the outside. United Way in particular was an invaluable partner providing an onsite mentor who helped with every aspect; and buying toys, books, furniture and computers along with funding professional development.
After four years, Charity eached the highest level of achievement on Indiana’s rating scale and accreditation by the National Association of Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) as a Level 4 Paths to Quality provider.
It has been an invaluable experience. And the results are abundant:
--children are cared for and taught in a high quality environment that is both challenging and age-appropriate;
--their specific needs are assessed and addressed;
--staff members receive ongoing education in early childhood;
--staff members earn a living wage that meets the needs of their own families;
--enrolled families have access to a wealth of resources;
--and, the holistic needs of all children served.
As the first and only registered child care ministry in Indiana to earn Level 4 status, Charity Child Care is proud of our collective accomplishment. Faith in God fueled us to pursue early childhood excellence. We hope to inspire other ministries to do the same.
For more on the story by Fox 59, click here.
--Juaneka "Nikki" Ennis, Charity Child Care program director