Agencies look to fill child care gap in Orleans County

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Rachel Bonsignore, standing, director of Lift Off Western New York, led a meeting last Wednesday at Cornell Cooperative Extension to address the need for child care in Orleans County. Clockwise from left are Taryn Moyle, Community Action; Bonnie Malakie, Head Start; Cathie Valley and Pay Payne, P’Raising Kids; Teresa Zwifka and Claire Renko, Orleans County Department of Social Services; Skip Helfrich, Leadership Orleans; Matt Holland, United Way grant writer; and Nyla Gaylord, United Way.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 8 August 2022 at 4:53 pm

Many of the county’s 15 child care providers are at full capacity or have a waiting list

KNOWLESVILLE – Representatives from child care agencies and the United Way of Orleans County met at Cornell Cooperative Extension last week to discuss the need for child care in the county.

The meeting was facilitated by Rachel Bonsignore, director of Lift Off Western New York, an agency which works to ensure children across the region are meeting critical milestones – ready to learn, succeed and reach their full potential by the time they begin school.

Those who attended the meeting were Dean Bellack, Nyla Gaylord and Matt Holland with United Way of Orleans County; Taryn Moyle from Community Action’s Childcare Resource and Referral; Bonnie Malakie, Head Start; Kathie Valley and Pat Payne from P’Raising Kids; Teresa Zwifka and Claire Renko from the Orleans County Department of Social Services; Skip Helfrich from Leadership Orleans; and Lana Youngs from Agri-Business Day Child Development.

Dean Bellack, director of United Way of Orleans County, talks with Rachel Bonsignore, director of Lift Off WNY, prior to last week’s meeting to address child care need in the county.

Bonsignore explained the state and some foundations have previously identified Orleans County as a child care desert.

“If that’s true, what can we do about it,” asked Nyla Gaylord, fundraiser with United Way of Orleans County. “We want to find out what that means. Ultimately, what we learn today can help United Way support grant writing with the help of our grant writer, Matt Holland.”

Bonsignore said Lift Off WNY focuses on giving children the best start for kindergarten readiness.

“There have been decades of research on how to improve early childhood development,” she said. “Ninety percent of the brain’s growth occurs before a child gets to school. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all these organizations got together and we had a united vision for early childhood.”

In 2017, Liftoff sought to understand how the region could better serve its youngest children. Thirty funders in the region, which included a dozen and a half foundations, United Ways throughout the area and local county representatives, supported the study in which more than 300 people participated, including parents, early childhood providers, early childhood experts, members of the philanthropic community and government officials.

As a result, three priorities emerged.

Early childcare should be available, affordable and accessible, Bonsignore said.

“My job is to come and listen, drive a consensus, then advocate – whether it’s for funding, policy change, how resource flows or even practice changes,” she said.

Gaylord said the information shared sparked fruitful discussions about current resources and the many challenges faced by daycare providers and parents of children living in Orleans County.

“Community conversations like this help focus our attention on how we can all work together more effectively and help pave a path for future collaborative efforts to improve and expand resources for Orleans County residents,” Gaylord said.

One thing the meeting identified is that licensed child care providers in Orleans County are top notch, Bonsignore said. Staff are passionate, well-credentialed and dedicated to ensuring the best experience for the children in their care.

Problems lie in transportation, which is a large barrier for parents, particularly if they live and work in an area with limited child care choices.

Additionally, there is not a supply of child care programs available to parents who work non-traditional hours, such as those in shift work, the restaurant industry or health care during evenings or weekends. Many of the county’s 15 child care providers are at full capacity or have a waiting list.

“We would like to further engage schools and employers throughout the county to learn of their unique challenges and incorporate their ideas into our community action plan,” Bonsignore said.

One thing for sure is the search for a solution to better and more available child care in Orleans County has not stopped with this meeting. Bonsignore is in the process of distilling everyone’s comments and putting together a high-level community action plan for the group’s consideration, she said. She hopes to have that finished and back to United Way of Orleans County for feedback by the end of the week.