When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee in the spring, staff members knew they would need to do more than simply move their classes online. The early learning center, located in a southwest Florida community with a poverty rate of over 50 percent, serves a large percentage of children whose parents are migrant farm workers or work in the hospitality field. As parents found themselves out of work and struggling to pay bills, school officials sprang into action, delivering food, diapers and cleaning supplies to families, providing financial support for rent and utilities and connecting families with community partners for more assistance.

“[Immokalee] was already an area of great poverty, and this had made that just so much more extreme,” said Beth Hatch, executive director of Pathways. “They’ve lost jobs…it’s affected every part of them.”

Pathways is one of several early childhood centers across the country that has adopted a wraparound approach, a model that provides a variety of supports to families, to provide much-needed help during the pandemic. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of households with children have experienced significant financial troubles due to the pandemic. Many families have struggled to have their basic needs met, dealing with eviction notices and food insecurity that persist as the pandemic continues. In an attempt to help families, some early childhood centers and nonprofits in states like Florida, Illinois and California have stepped up, regardless of the cost, to provide stability to families with young children.

“Ninety percent of the brain develops by age 5,” said Kristin Spanos, chief executive officer of First 5 Alameda County, which in April started handing out what amounted to $3 million in grants to organizations that support families’ basic needs. And that development can be impacted by “stresses that are happening in the home,” she added. “If we can help to alleviate any elements of that…any way we can insulate any of those adverse experiences, we’re obviously interested in doing that.”

Read the full article about child care centers by Jackie Mader at The Hechinger Report.