Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas, which is new to Faulkner County, is a resource for referrals for day care, training and even hand-holding.
“We’re there for the parents; we’re there for the provider, and the children, of course; that’s what we’re there for. It totally is about the children,” said Carol Crockett, manager of the Conway satellite office.
The nonprofit organization has a database of all licensed or registered child care providers in 14 counties, including Faulkner, Van Buren and Cleburne.
“That’s one piece of the pie, but it’s an important piece of the pie,” Crockett said.
Debbie Webb, program director, said a big part of the program is serving as a resource for parents.
“When they are looking for child care, they call us. Hopefully, we match them up with a place that has a vacancy,” Webb said. “We can save them hours of calling.”
“They tell us, ‘OK, I need care for an infant, and I’ve got a 3-year-old, and I go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning,’” she said.
Just in Faulkner County, there are 77 licensed providers.
Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas doesn’t recommend or evaluate providers, however.
“We also give parents checklists of things to look for in quality child care because a lot of parents do not know,” Webb said.
Based in Batesville, the organization opened in 1997.
“We have enjoyed good success,” Webb said.
It was the first nationally accredited and quality-approved child care resource and referral program in Arkansas.
Referrals are not all the organization offers, Crockett and Webb emphasized.
It is the proverbial “network” of services.
The organization provides training in disaster preparedness, nutrition and other topics for child care providers, “those that are in the trenches every day, the front line,” Webb said.
“We place a lot of emphasis on training. Our slant is more toward the child care facilities and increasing quality, training, spotting service gaps and addressing needs where there are gaps, whether it’s toddler care, after-school care” or more, she said.
“Originally, we were formed out of industry concern in our part of the state because several child care facilities were closed, and people couldn’t go to work because they didn’t have any place to leave their kiddos,” Webb said.
In Clinton, for example, the organization found a severe shortage of child care options and worked with elected officials and industry leaders for a solution.
A grant was obtained from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to build a day care and preschool in the industrial park.
The organization also provides business-management training for new family day cares, offering on-site, one-on-one training on such matters as how to keep records for tax purposes, how to document expenses and awareness of liability issues, Webb said.
“They get a file box of resources, and we basically help them to be successful. They may be wonderful with children but not be that great of a business manager,” Webb said.
Crockett became the manager in July for the agency’s Conway satellite office, which is in her home.
She also has a home preschool, which she started about 32 years ago when her daughter was a toddler. Crockett and her husband have run the preschool together for the past 15 years. Now he is licensed and is the lead teacher.
When Crockett got the opportunity to join Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas, she thought about how much she loved what she was doing.
“I realized I could reach more people this way. I could reach more children; I could make a difference,” she said.
Crockett said she won’t recommend her husband’s preschool and asked to sign a conflict-of-interest statement.
“We’re just getting to know the providers in the community by going to see them, offering them trainings, helping them connect with people who can help,” she said.
“We’re trying to help them be current on their trainings — every kind of hand-holding you can think of, we’re doing it. That’s what’s so fun about our job; they don’t have to be afraid of us. … It’s always to help them.”
There is no cost for Child Care Aware’s services, Webb said.
Webb said Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas in Batesville has a resource center of materials that day care providers can check out. Webb said a resource center is being planned for Conway, and the agency is looking for a space for the center.
“We buy things that help supplement [day care providers’] curriculum,” Webb said. Items include books, thematic units, flannel-board stories and flannel-board games, and manipulatives for fine motor skills.
The first two members of a community advisory panel have been named: Kathy Powers, a teacher in the Conway School District and the 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year; and Terry Love of Conway, an employee with the Arkansas Department of Health, injury prevention.
Powers said she hasn’t attended her first board meeting and has more to learn about the organization.
“I’m a teacher, and I’m a mother, and as part of my career interest, I’ve done research on student achievement and why students don’t achieve. … What I’ve found is that one of the things that our state needs, and children really need, is high-quality preschool,” she said.
“That organization is really on the right track with supporting the adults that support these children, basically, and caring about getting them resources and educating parents and child care providers ... and helping students get the right start,” Powers said. “I want to be a part of that.”
Webb said the organization has hit the ground running.
“We’ve been doing a lot of partnership-building,” Webb said, with schools and organizations, including the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Central Arkansas, the Conway School District, Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative in Plumerville, Head Start and the Department of Human Services.
Crockett said the overriding goal of Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas is to give children a good start in life.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure the children are ensured everything they desire and need to be happy and healthy children,” she said.
Child Care Aware is privately and state funded. It’s sponsored by the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education and is under the umbrella of the parent company, White River Planning and Development District, another nonprofit organization.
For more information, contact Crockett at (501) 327-6677 or go to www.ccana.org.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.