CFMC Leads Early Learning Coalition in Morgan County

In May 2021, CFMC was approached by The Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County to lead a pilot initiative in our county. IU Health’s South-Central Region (SCR) consists of Lawrence, Monroe, Morgan, and Orange counties and is home to 16,955 children, ages birth to five. Most of these young children (65%) need care because all parents are working, but only 32% of IU Health’s South-Central Region (SCR) childcare programs are high quality.

Since the majority of the South-Central Region consists of working families who are dependent on reliable childcare, it is critical that our region not only increases access to early learning seats, but also the number of high-quality options.

Indiana has a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for early care and education programs called Paths to QUALITY TM (PTQ). This is a voluntary rating system where programs are rated from Level 1 to Level 4, with Level 4 being the highest rating. In Indiana, “high quality” is defined as a program that is Level 3 or Level 4 on PTQ or is accredited by an approved national organization. In Morgan County, there are eleven programs participating in PTQ and two of those programs are rated as high quality by the state’s definition. The number of high-quality programs has remained the same in Morgan County from 2016-2019 (except for 2018 when there was only one high quality program). Current high-quality rated programs have capacity to serve 24 young children or one percent of children who need care.

We also found that almost two thirds of Morgan County children live in an area with low childcare capacity or in a childcare desert, which means the ratio of children in birth to five years of age versus childcare options are limited or not available.

There are 23 known early care and education programs in Morgan County that are licensed or registered with the state of Indiana. The number of known programs in Morgan County decreased by 13 programs from 2019 to 2020, which is during the time period we were experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, it is hard to know how drastically capacity numbers have changed over the last couple of years. Available program data shows there are roughly 500 known spots available for young children in early care and education programs, which means most (85%) of Morgan County’s children who need care are being served in an informal program by a relative, neighbor, or friend where the care and education being provided is unknown. Of the 22 programs for which data is available, 21 programs offer full-day programming, and one offers wrap-around services after school hours. Over half (56%) have infant and toddler spots available. Morgan County has various types of programs available for families. The known programs include 10 licensed family child care homes, seven unlicensed registered ministries, three child care centers, and two Head Start programs.

The Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County received generous funding from IU Health and Early Learning Indiana to work alongside SCR stakeholders to identify how best to deploy grant dollars to increase access to high quality early learning programs. Morgan County alone, received $85,000.

This work builds upon initial strategies already underway to advance a regional coalition in the Indiana Uplands region by Monroe Smart Start (MSS), a leadership initiative of CFBMC, working closely with Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI).

Since May, we have involved daycare centers, ministries, home care centers, schools, and other wrap-around non-profits in Morgan County and conducted an introductory meeting, two design thinking sessions, and a strategic planning session. This initiative is also working with Transform Consulting Group, who attends each meeting, gathers all the data, and gives an unbiased report as a third party.

We also sent a survey to employers within Morgan County to gain their insight since statistically, child-care related absences and turnover cost Indiana employers $1.8 billion annually. We wanted to know from local HR departments what they are seeing and what support they offer to employers related to parental support and family care. Their input is also a part of our early learning implementation plans.

We are still in the strategic planning stages and will eventually create an early learning implementation plan that is evidence-based on data provided by local schools, Indiana Department of Education, IU Health, Early Learning Indiana and the CDC. The grant dollars will then be used to advance early learning education, centers most-in-need, and create a program that is sustainable within Morgan County. Stay tuned!

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