Editor’s Note: This series of blog posts highlights community programs that partner with the UVM Medical Center to help people in our community.

480777611As a parent of a young child and an employee of a nonprofit social services agency, I know firsthand how important and challenging the first years of a child’s life can be for the whole family.

The stressors of being a new parent – appointments, balancing work, financial difficulty, housing worries, transportation issues, maintaining healthy (and affordable) nutrition, finding and paying for quality childcare – the list is endless. So, the questions are: what is helpful for families of young children? How do we support positive mental health outcomes for children and families?

These questions led to the creation of “The Caring Collaborative: A Family-Driven Pilot.”

What is The Caring Collective?

The Caring Collaborative was developed in response to the UVM Medical Center’s 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment, which identified children’s mental health as a priority.

With the principles of collective impact in mind, the UVM Medical Center partnered with the United Way of Chittenden County and Howard Center to develop a new program that would address the question of how to help families with young children. We also partnered with a mid-sized childcare center that serves a significant number of children and families at risk of experiencing negative consequences of mental health and health disparities.

Our idea? Families are already connected to their child’s childcare, often going there twice a day, five days a week, and using childcare staff as supports. We wanted to bring services to where the families already were. We wanted to support both the childcare staff and the families to place an emphasis on positive social and emotional growth and to decrease risk factors and stressors.

What have we done so far?

The Caring Collaborative began its work by forming a steering committee comprised of about thirty people from local community organizations. Little Ones University in Essex was selected as our childcare hub, and work began in January 2015.

Since the beginning, there has been a lot of learning and a positive impact on the childcare center, the staff, and most importantly, the children and families. We have hosted:

  • Workshops for families
  • Provided free community dance classes
  • Hosted a clothing swap
  • Created garden beds
  • Sponsored a weekly gardening program
  • Subsidized weekly in-classroom creative movement classes
  • Hosted a Family Fun day

We offered classroom-specific support, providing in-classroom observations, modeling and feedback to encourage a focus on positive social interactions and predictability. We introduced Working Bridges with a resource coordinator who connects families with a variety of services, including help for the holidays, free on-site tax preparation, and numerous consultations for both the childcare staff and families.

The Caring Collaborative, along with tremendous support from the director of the Little Ones University and a school district partner, received the Pre-K Expansion Grant, which has provided funding to improve quality in the pre-K classrooms. With the grant goals in mind, we have helped the childcare center adopt a food program, as well as dental, health, and mental health screenings.

What’s Next?

The Caring Collaborative is in the process of identifying larger systems issues that impact a family’s access to services. Our goal is to partner with other agencies working on these issues and to create a larger effort.

Currently, we are seeking funding to support the continuation and growth of the Caring Collaborative. Our hope is to continue the work at Little Ones, while beginning to partner with another center. We strive to continue to learn, grow, and support young children and families in positive and lasting ways.

Samantha Eayrs is the on-site coordinator for the Caring Collaborative and has been working in the Early Childhood Program at the Howard Center since May of 2007. She supervises program interventionists, provides consultation to classroom teachers and families, and is part of the backbone support of the Caring Collaborative. Samantha is the proud mother of a 3-and-a-half- year-old son and lives with him and her husband in South Burlington. 

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