Helping families find quality childcare is nothing new for 4C -- the nonprofit organization has been doing that since the 1980s. But 4C launched a special program last June to help families experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. In its first year of operation, 4C helped a total of 100 families that fit that description and is continuing to help more each month.
“It was difficult securing safe and stable childcare arrangements for our families before partnering with 4C because a lot of our families have unpredictable and flexible schedules that are extremely challenging,” said Denise Hill, the child parent coordinator for Bethany House, which referred more families to 4C locally than any other homeless shelter during the program’s first year.
“It’s just removing that huge barrier,” Hill said. “Having a safe and secure location to take their kids has been a tremendous help.”
Advocates for the program at 4C also see it as an important step to reducing the region’s childhood poverty rate by helping parents get the childcare they need so they can work to support themselves and their kids.
“When families are in crisis, they’re in this day-to-day survival mode,” said Erin Saul, 4C’s team lead for family and community services. “We help them look down the line to decide what do they want for their kids and how can a childcare provider help them get there.”
‘Thank God for 4C’
Bagley didn’t expect to be in crisis when she moved to Cincinnati.
She and her four kids left Sarasota, Florida, because it was becoming too expensive to manage there, Bagley said. She and her family lived with a friend here for a while until the friend ran into financial trouble, too. That’s when Bagley and her children ended up homeless. They moved into the Bethany House’s Fairmount shelter in July.
Even with all the support that Hill and other Bethany House staff provided, though, it has been tough for Bagley to get things back on track. She didn’t have a birth certificate for her youngest child, 2-year-old Tempest. And the girl couldn’t be enrolled in a daycare without that.
Daniel Scheiman, a resource specialist with 4C, helped her find daycares that she liked, and he assured Bagley that they could put the process on hold until she was able to get Tempest’s birth certificate with the help of Bethany House. Bagley ended up finding a daycare near Westwood that she and her kids love.
“Thank God for 4C,” she said. “They love their daycare worker. (Tempest) blows her kisses goodbye every day.”
That kind of peace of mind is critical for families experiencing homelessness because parents must make sure their kids are safe and secure before they do anything else, Hill said.
“Homelessness comes with a lot of ills attached to it. Sometimes we have families in transition where we’re starting from scratch,” she said. “Depending upon the family composition, childcare can truly be a barrier for our families obtaining self-sufficiency.”
With Tempest happily enrolled in daycare and her three older kids in school, Bagley soon will start a warehouse management training class, she said.
“I’m excited about that,” she said.
The childcare piece of the puzzle
Staff at 4C initiated the new partnership with local homeless shelters after noticing an increase in the number of families that were calling for referrals from homeless shelters or after they had just left a shelter, Saul said.
The agency is part of a task force working to reduce childhood homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County and began hearing from local shelters about how difficult it was for their case managers to find childcare for clients.
“We said, ‘hey, that’s actually where we are the experts. We’d be happy to help you with that piece of the puzzle for your clients,’” Saul said.
Staff at 4C asks parents what they want for their children and then finds childcare options that also meet the parents’ needs when it comes to hours and flexibility. The agency also can search for daycare providers on bus routes for parents like Bagley who don’t have cars.
“The last thing we want is for a family to go to a provider and realize down the line that their hours don’t meet their rotating schedule,” Saul said.
4C follows up with families two weeks after it provides those referrals and again after 45 days.
Bagley is hoping little Tempest can keep going to the daycare she loves now her family has left the Bethany House shelter and moved into their new home in Walnut Hills.
It’s going to take a lot of bus transfers to get Tempest there, Bagley said, but she hopes to make it work.
“She’s just gotten being comfortable with being in daycare,” Bagley said. “She had been with me.”
But even if Bagley has to make a change, she’s confident Bethany House and 4C will help her find childcare that works for her and her kids.
“If I have to move daycare, all I have to do is call Dan,” she said. “That is a relief to know.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.
To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.