AECN helps address childcare across Kentucky

Published 5:05 am Friday, October 13, 2023

By Jordan Brooks

Across the state of Kentucky, individuals possessing degrees often find themselves compelled to leave their occupations due to the lack of adequate child care.

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Retired kindergarten teacher and executive director of the Appalachian Early Childhood Network Becky Stacy says she has former students who are radiologists who are unable to find child care so they are compelled to leave the workforce.

The AECN was formed in 2019 with the goal to bring affordable, high-quality early care and education to the Appalachian Region of Kentucky. In 2021, AECN became a part of the newly formed Family Child Care Network of Kentucky. FCCN-KY guides potential providers in opening childcare in their homes. In addition, AECN provides technical support and training to new and existing childcare businesses.

Appalachian Early Childhood Network serves 48 counties across Kentucky.

“Family Childhood Network of Kentucky’s goal is to bring family childcare into the whole state,” said Stacy. “We speak at chamber of commerce meetings, meetings with local officials to talk with them about how bringing in home child care into their area will not only make sure you have childcare but also will help the economy.

“One of the things that happened to [Perry County] is that we are a child care desert. That devastating flood was just last year, and it brought out the need for child care because we have parents that suddenly had to go back to work when perhaps they hadn’t had to work before and there was no place for them to send their children.”

The Appalachian Early Childhood Network provides professional development and advocacy efforts that support young children, their families, and the early childhood professionals that serve them.

AECN provides support by assisting child care providers with training, technical assistance, and advocacy. AECN provides practical, affordable, and high-quality training for early childhood professionals in Appalachia, offering technical assistance through mentoring and coaching, including start up support for family child care homes.

AECN focuses on working for change in early childhood care and education by advocating for child care professionals, children, and families at the local, state, and national levels.

“I was invited to speak on behalf of AECN and the FCCN-KY,” said Stacy. “I used the opportunity to tell the stories of parents who want to enter or re-enter the workforce, but aren’t able to because childcare is either unavailable or unaffordable.”

In 2022, the General Assembly passed House Bill 499 to encourage employers to partner with the state to provide financial assistance for their employees’ child care costs. HB 499 stated that the state would agree if the employer would pay for part of child care for their employees, the state would pick up the other part.

AECN also visits zoning laws that prevent people from opening up child care centers in their neighborhood because they’re considered a business, and there is debate about child care centers in residential areas.

According to Stacy, AECN advocates for families to have high-quality, affordable child care, and provide resources for those looking for care, as well as for increased CCAP eligibility and lower copays for families.

“We have women who have to get on a waiting list when they find out they’re pregnant for child care, that’s how long these waiting lists are,” said Stacy.

With deep roots in Appalachia, AECN can be found participating in activities that support families, children, and providers.

AECN serves Bell County by supporting the family childcare facilities that are established, as well as hosting events to recruit new providers. Karen Thompson, professional development manager with AECN in Middlesboro, also hosts events while providing educational information about the program.

Across their service area, AECN helps to set up outdoor learning spaces for child care service providers, setting up safer environments that keeps kids engaged in outdoor play.

“We focus on getting less of the Little Tikes and less of the plastics, but planting gardens and building sidewalks to walk on, or getting someone to shave down tree trunks so you can build them high and low and can move them around and the kids can learn to balance,” said Thompson.

Thompson said AECN works with local health departments across their service area, and are establishing connections with the local chamber of commerce and the city of Middlesboro.

“We want to see the trajectories of young children and families improve,” said Karen Thompson, Professional Development Manager with AECN. “A lot of the times we hear ‘why do you even try, it’s been like this forever?’ and I just think that if I can change one child’s life it’s been worth it.”