The Partnership for Children of Wayne County, part of the statewide Smart Start network, has launched a series of initiatives to support children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Partnership for Children of Wayne County is providing training for parents and early childhood professionals to address ongoing stress, collaborating with family child care providers to adjust their operations and maintain access to care for families, and distributing devices and broadband technology to increase virtual access for families and early childhood professionals. Local families and early childhood professionals interested in participating in these initiatives should contact Shelly Willis at the Partnership office at 919-735-3371 ext. 235 for more information.
“During this crisis, I’m proud Smart Start has worked quickly through our network of local partnerships to leverage these funds to meet the needs of children and families across the state,” said Amy Cubbage, president of The North Carolina Partnership for Children, which oversees the Smart Start network. “We are grateful that our state’s policymakers recognized the importance of support for child care, children and families and invested in these needs.”
The Partnership for Children of Wayne County’s investments are made possible by $20 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated by the North Carolina General Assembly to support early childhood initiatives. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) allocated $5 million of this funding to The North Carolina Partnership for Children to be used throughout the Smart Start network for initiatives focused on children and families.
Valerie Wallace, Executive Director of the Partnership stated, “We are excited to be part of a statewide effort to support the early childhood field and parents. During the whole pandemic, the importance of early childhood has surfaced to the top and we are now seeing some momentum of the importance of this field. Parents have relied on the early childhood sector in order to work and to utilize many of the resources we have been able to offer to them. We are thrilled to be able to expand our service field and offer more programming, training and resources to child care providers and families”.
One of the Smart Start initiatives addresses the ongoing stress faced by young children and families. Resources for Resilience includes self-awareness and self-regulation training for parents and coaching for early childhood professionals. The program trains adults on what happens to children affected by stress, provides coaching to support resiliency tools and includes a schedule of drop-in Listening Circles for parents and educators to discuss the strategies learned.
Smart Start is also supporting family child care directors in order to ensure critical access to child care. In September, there were more than 1,300 family child care homes in North Carolina, serving almost 8,700 children. Smart Start is helping these providers by offering access to Wonderschool, a business automation platform for family child care and small centers. Wonderschool delivers digital tools and training to help providers adjust to business challenges caused by the pandemic and to improve communication with parents. The Partnership for Children will partner with two Family Child Care Homes on this initiative.
Smart Start is supporting these initiatives, as well as parenting education and home visiting programs, by providing access to technology and internet for families and early childhood professionals. According to Census data, almost 25% of North Carolina households do not subscribe to any internet services, with a disproportionate impact on low-income, rural and minority families. The increased reliance on virtual tools during the pandemic has deepened this digital divide. Smart Start’s goal is to ensure that a lack of internet access doesn’t limit access to home visiting programs.