Wisconsin Early Education Shared Service Network
- Need: Throughout the state of Wisconsin, childcare services are closing rapidly, with staffing and finance issues as the main causes.
- Intervention: In Wisconsin's Monroe and Vernon Counties, a collaborative that focuses on addressing key childcare access issues has come up with a creative solution. The Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network allows childcare providers to pool staff, resources, and services while receiving support for business and educational operations.
- Results: So far, 6 childcare programs in Monroe and Vernon Counties have joined the Shared Services Network and more are considering. Joining has allowed childcare providers to focus their time, finances, and energy on the children they serve.
In rural America, early childhood education and childcare services are identified as a social determinant of health, with more than 50% of rural American communities considered childcare deserts. Throughout the state of Wisconsin, childcare services are closing rapidly, with staffing and finance issues as the main causes. In Wisconsin's Monroe and Vernon Counties, a collaborative that focuses on addressing key childcare access issues has come up with a creative solution.
Wisconsin Partners is a state-wide initiative that uses a broad-based relational model to help communities identify key issues and work together to address those issues. One of their initiatives, Kickapoo Conversations – a forum made up of community members representing different sectors including healthcare, schools, youth, churches, businesses, and civic leaders – identified childcare as a key need. The lack of childcare services in the region has impacted the ability to recruit and retain healthcare workers and young families.
Kickapoo Conversations first explored building a childcare center at Vernon Memorial Hospital or Organic Valley Cooperative, two large employers in the area, but a different solution was presented that was more sustainable and financially feasible: The Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA), a member of Wisconsin Partners, offered to support the effort to start a Shared Services Network called the Wisconsin Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN). The program allows childcare providers to pool staff, resources, and services to better focus their time, finances, and energy on the children they serve.
Because of the multi-sector approach of this collaboration, WECA was awarded a 42-month grant to serve as the administrating organization for WEESSN. The grant funding (awarded January 1st, 2019) came from the Medical College of Wisconsin's Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program, which receives funding from the Advancing A Healthier Wisconsin Endowment.
Organic Valley Family of Farms and its parent company, the Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools (CROPP) Cooperative, contributed funds to support the writing of the grant application, and Gundersen Health System provided funds to support WEESSN's work with childcare providers.
Based on needs of current childcare programs gathered from focus groups and surveys, WECA developed a menu of activities that are customized for each childcare program and managed by WEESSN. WEESSN provides assistance for both the business and educational side of running a childcare business, freeing childcare providers to focus on the children.
Business Leadership Assistance
- Compliance with licensing and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS)
- Streamlining tuition and payroll
- Bulk purchasing and pre-negotiated discount pricing on goods and services
- Substitute teacher pool
- Through a secure, cloud-based system, WEESSN provides automated recordkeeping for:
Educator Leadership Assistance
- Documentation and observation
- Meaningful curriculum planning
- Personalized professional development pathway
- Growing program leadership capacity
- Collective professional learning communities
WEESSN is working with area medical providers and pediatricians to embed the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) into the Shared Services Network to help childcare providers monitor children's development and ensure children are hitting important developmental milestones. WEESSN also collaborated with Kickapoo Area School District to provide an ASQ screening event at a school for parents and their young children.
Through 2020, WEESSN is available at no cost to all regulated childcare programs in Vernon and Monroe counties.
So far, 6 childcare programs (a mix of family childcare and centers) in Monroe and Vernon Counties have joined the Shared Services Network and more are considering.
The Kickapoo region experienced flooding during the development and launch of WEESSN, so organizers had to be flexible and factor in the immediate needs of the community amidst the massive recovery and rebuilding of homes and businesses.
One of the challenges to taking on the childcare crisis is that stakeholders often want a quick remedy since the need is great. But the reality of starting, funding, and maintaining a childcare business can be a complicated process. Helping everyone involved understand this and manage the expectations for timelines and results is important.
- There are over two dozen Shared Services Networks (also known as Alliances) around the country. Opportunities Exchange is a clearinghouse of information that can be a valuable resource to any community looking into Shared Services as a solution to childcare dilemmas.
- Because Shared Services isn't a panacea or a one-stop solution, communities, regions, and states should consider innovative collaborations to help create the conditions for a thriving childcare sector. Shared Services Networks are most successful when there is significant cross-sector support and successful funding is typically a mix of grants alongside philanthropic, public, and private money.
- Adopting a Shared Services model means asking business owners (including childcare providers) and others (like officials, community stakeholders, and funders) to consider unconventional solutions.
- Each person embraces change differently, so being prepared to equip early adopters and being patient with those who need more time to consider, are equally important.
- WEESSN has expanded into additional geographic areas of the state, including Dane and Milwaukee County, with additional communities considering how to bring WEESSN to their childcare programs. WEESSN is grateful for the strong childcare community champions who have supported its launch and continued work.
Children and youth
Community and economic development
Networking and collaboration
Recruitment and retention of health professionals
Sustainability of programs
November 7, 2019
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2019. Wisconsin Early Education Shared Service Network [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/1072 [Accessed 17 January 2021]
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