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Innovative Healdsburg program addresses shortage of child care workers

Janette Valencia lives in Alexander Valley and has three sons, aged 14, 12 and 5.

When the older boys were younger, she had difficulty finding child care. “It was hard to find someone,” Valencia recalled. “We’re not close to a city.”

That tracks with the findings of a study commissioned earlier this year by First5 Sonoma County, which revealed that the Healdsburg and Geyserville areas have the highest need for child care.

That’s part of the reason Valencia has enrolled in a new, six-month program that will train and certify adults over 18 to become licensed child care providers - free of charge. The program is the result of a partnership between the city of Healdsburg, Sonoma County Adult Education, Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma 4Cs and Corazón Healdsburg, which received a $20,000 grant earmarked for the project from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit Programs.

The classes, which will be available in English and Spanish, start Jan. 16 at the Healdsburg Community Center. They will meet every Thursday from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., when older kids are in school, and go until early June.

Courses will focus on child development, curriculum, state licensing and CPR and first aid certification. What about low wage earners who can’t afford to take time off work to attend class?

“We will pay them for their time to complete the program,” said Ariel Kelley, CEO of Corazón Healdsburg, who describes the classes as culmination of “two years of conversation and one year of putting it together.”

All involved in the program’s creation and development knew they were addressing an acute shortage.

“We need more child care providers in general, but specifically in our county,” said Nancy Miller, the director of adult education programs at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Sixty slots are available; so far half have been filled.

While students in the program won’t receive college credit, it has been designed to serve as a kind of on-ramp for those interested in working toward a teaching credential in preschool or elementary school education, Miller said.

The program presents an opportunity for women - so far no men have signed up - who may already be caring for kids “in an unlicensed environment,” as Kelley put it, to get formal training.

“And when you’re licensed,” she added, “you can charge more money.”

For students who need the service, free child care will be provided while they’re in class.

The program will also provide a navigator during the licensing process. “There’s a lot of paperwork,” said Kelley, “and not everyone has access to a scanner or printer” - or is in a position “to get every adult in their household fingerprinted and go through a background check.”

What children experience in their first 18 months has an out-sized effect on the cognitive, language and social skills that will influence their future learning. For that reason, said Kelley, this program will teach future child care providers an age-appropriate curriculum “that will be good for kids from zero to 18 months.”

“For example, don’t put on a movie.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Ausmurph88.

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