Accessing affordable, high-quality childcare in the New River Valley has long been a challenge for parents. That is why of one of the priorities of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley’s (CFNRV) Fund of the NRV is investing in early childhood education and development through the First Steps initiative. The NRV has lower rates of kindergarten readiness and a higher percentage of children needing special education services compared to the state average. To address these and other challenges, First Steps focuses on building connections and sharing information between service providers, developing messaging and advocacy materials about the importance of early childhood development, and supporting the early childhood education and development workforce.
Prior to COVID-19, the NRV had only 3,000 available childcare placements for the more than 10,000 children under 6 living in our region. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated childcare needs and put added pressure on social and health services for young children and families. As workplaces, schools, and childcare facilities move to reopen, Senator Tim Kaine made a visit to Blacksburg to talk about how federal relief legislation could support childcare needs. The Senator’s office was aware of First Steps, and asked the CFNRV to convene a conversation with childcare providers, healthcare workers, public school officials, and social service providers to share both immediate needs and long-term concerns. The conversation focused on the financial challenges of running a childcare center at reduced capacity, recruiting and retaining qualified educators when pay is low, ensuring a safe place for educators and children, and meeting increased childcare demands for school-age children as public schools reopen on a limited schedule.
The conversation also underscored the ability of First Steps to raise awareness about early care and education, and to build collaborative relationships that help providers navigate challenges both big and small. You can find more information about First Steps here.