An Interview with Barb Fabre

by Beth Blevins

Barb Fabre-Ojibwa NationBarbara Fabre is an enrolled member of the Ojibwa Nation in Minnesota and has worked for the White Earth Reservation for the past 25 years in the Education and Human Services Department, working with Youth Services, WIC, Indian Child Welfare, Employment and Training and Child Care Services. Fabre is the director for the White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Program (CCDF), Co-Chair and co–founder of the Communities Collaborative Conference (Minnesota’s largest annual Brain Development conference). The White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Program manages two child care learning centers, a basic sliding fee subsidy program, a tribal licensing program, and an early childhood read mobile/early literacy program.

Currently, Fabre is Chairperson of the National Indian Child Care Association, a member of Minnesota’s Early Learning Council, and serves on the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Subcommittee of the National Advisory Council of Rural Health and Human Services. She is also a former public school board member.

In her spare time, (“all 7 minutes of it”), she likes to spend time with her family and friends. Fabre is married “with three grown children and three beautiful grandchildren.” She recently purchased a log cabin on a lake and is looking forward to enjoying ”lake living” with family and friends. She also recently went back to college to finish a degree in Psychology.

What is your reservation like? How rural or isolated is it?

The White Earth Reservation is named for the layer of white clay at White Earth Village. It was originally to be the home of all the Ojibwe in the state. The boundaries are about 1,300 square miles. There are 11 villages within it, ranging from 50 to 1,300 people. A majority of the villages are approximately 20 minutes apart. The land base is farming, rolling hills, trees and many, many lakes. There are some convenience stores and two grocery stores that typically have higher prices than the metro-based grocery stores that are located about 30 minutes off the reservation. There are nine school districts connected to the reservation. There are approximately 10,000 people living here within the reservation boundaries, with about half being enrolled members of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. The White Earth Ojibwe Nation is the largest tribe in Minnesota with about 20,000 members and triple that in descendants (descendants are typically children of enrolled members who may not have enough of the blood quantum—one-fourth—to be an enrolled member).

I have lived here most of my life and I am very proud of our Reservation and our Tribal Council, which is our governing body of elected officials. Like any other place, we have many of the same social issues facing our communities such as school dropouts, out-of-home placements, drug abuse, crime and poverty. However, there are many promising programs and initiatives that are helping level the playing field for our children and families and I believe that our program is one of them.

Is living on a reservation similar to living in other rural areas? How is it unique?

I think there are many issues that people living in rural areas have to deal with, like lack of jobs, transportation issues and isolation. I believe that many reservations face the same issues, and each reservation has its own unique issues. Many people believe that if a tribe has a casino, that they are rich and do not need outside funding. However, that is definitely not the case. Our Tribe has a casino, but we are not a rich tribe because of it. It does help fund the tribal governmental infrastructure to an extent, but being a large member tribe and a large (rural) geographical area, it does not come close to being what is needed to fund all the services offered. The Tribal Council does put funding into all areas of our government including health, legal, public safety, social services, elderly, education and child care/early childhood, and they are a huge supporter of our program.

What sparked or focused your interest in early childhood development and education? And why do you think it is important?

When I was about 18 I got a job as a child care teacher assistant and had the opportunity to work within the classroom and with children of varying ages, I loved it. I think having that first exposure to early childhood and all the possibilities it brings, at an early age, planted a seed in me that eventually brought me back. In college, I started a degree in social work. Over the course of the years, I worked in W.I.C., private businesses, Employment and Training, and then Indian Child Welfare, where I helped place foster children. After seeing the trauma that children went through, knowing that their learning cycle or processes were consistently being interrupted by the trauma in their lives, such as being taken from their parents and the trauma that led up to that, each new foster placement. Eventually, I got burned out and decided I wanted to work from the intervention and prevention aspect to help prevent out-of-home placements or at least help families and build strong and resilient children. A Child Care and Development Block Grant came along right around then, and it all fell into place for me.

Tell me more about the White Earth Child Care/Early Childhood Program and the communities it serves.

We manage two child care centers, White Earth Child Care Program in Ogema, and Mahnomen Child Care Learning Center in Mahnomen, which are both on the White Earth Reservation and are approximately 26 miles apart. On any given day, between our tribal child care centers and in-home child care, we serve approximately 200 children, while our Parent Mentor Program serves 120 children and our Child Care Assistance Program serves about 130 children, all on a monthly basis.

Our program also administers Child Care Assistance (Basic Sliding Fee Scale) to low-income parents/caregivers who are working, attending school or training and need assistance with paying their child care costs. The BSF Scale helps determine the family’s monthly copayment (or contribution towards the monthly child care expenses based on their income and family size). The Tribal Licensing Program recruits, monitors and provides quality support to individuals who provide child care in their home or non-residential setting. It is similar to state child care licensing.

What services do your parent mentors provide?

They are responsible for providing parent support and coaching caregivers in child learning and development. They work in the homes and in the community, with a focus on working with at-risk families who are at risk of losing their children or who have lost their children and are trying to get them back, and with parents who simply want parenting or child development training/support. We work closely with tribal courts, Indian Child Welfare and Mental Health for referrals. We also work with community organizations to put on community events so that children and family can attend positive family events. We just received a mini grant, so the three childhood programs that work on the reservation, Head Start, CCDF and Tribal Maternal Home Visiting, can work on a pilot for increased collaborations between the three programs that work with the same families, from services to information.

What are some of the challenges in running your program?

Much like other programs, one of our struggles is funding. With more funding, we could hire more staff for home-visiting to at-risk parents/children, provide more families with child care assistance so that more parents could enter and stay in the workforce, and offer more support for our child care/early childhood teachers through professional development, quality and health and safety, such as home visits and annual inspections to ensure that their child care is safe.

Living in a very rural area, our child care/early childhood teachers are spread apart so that they tend to be very isolated, so it’s important to make sure they have access (and affordability) to high quality early childhood educational opportunities to ensure that children in their care are having high quality early childhood experiences and are getting the school readiness skills and social/emotional skills they need to be successful students and productive adults.

One of the other issues is to consistently remind everyone (outside the child care realm) that child care is a high quality early childhood program and we have been around since the beginning of time. A few years ago, there was a study in Minnesota that ranked child care as the third largest industry behind hotel and corn, and even though there are a lot of children that are in formal or informal child care, there are limited resources to those child care teachers and children. So, we try to level the playing field there, even with limited funding and resources.

Child care teachers, particularly in-home child care providers, have many challenges of serving multiple age groups by not having back-up substitutes, no sick days, no support staff (curriculum, health, etc.), no health insurance/benefits, and no paid vacations, and yet are expected to still do everything that any other early childhood teacher does. So, supporting them is critical to working families, children and successful economic development/workforce for communities.

How have you seen children exhibit trauma—and what are its causes?

Many Native American children living within the White Earth Reservation service area experience high levels of stress and trauma due to violence in their homes and community. A 2007 longitudinal study (Healing Pathways) performed with families from the White Earth Reservation reported that 53.2 percent of parent/caretakers felt that child neglect was a problem in their community; 37.8 percent saw child physical abuse as a problem; and 36.9 percent reported child sexual abuse as a problem in their community. Because of the significant degrees of family violence, substance abuse and stressful life events, many children have untreated traumatic responses. Research indicates that children in poverty, who do not receive adequate social and emotional support to address these issues, have a greater likelihood for school failure and subsequent mental illness and substance abuse. Experts in education policy show strong evidence that children living in poverty are more successful with year-round, high-quality programming with well-educated teachers and parent-child interactions. It is our goal to work with parents and caregivers to help identify behaviors that could affect the developing child. Early Intervention is critical to children and helping children with their social and emotional skills is part of that.

After children graduate from CCDF, are there any follow-up programs for them as they transition to elementary school? And what programs would you like to see developed that aren’t available currently?

Being a tribal child care program, we take pride in our ability to work very closely with all of our tribally licensed providers as well as state-licensed providers in our area, to ensure they are supported to provide the best possible care/education and early childhood experience, in order for children to enter school ready. This includes giving support to FFN (Family, Friends and Neighbor) providers.

In any community, Head Start serves about one-third of the community’s children, another one-third is in some form of child care, formal or informal, and the other one-third of children are not in any type of early childhood program. So, being the collaborators that we are, we work to get the children in child care and be inclusive of the one-third of children not in any kind of program—the access and opportunity to developmental screenings, health (mental, dental and well-child) screenings, language development, social and emotional skill building that includes self-regulation skills and self-esteem.

We work with other local early childhood programs and school districts to ensure that we are all communicating and working on kindergarten transition together. Ensuring that preschools and K-3 are aligned is critical to children and we work hard to pull all of us together to discuss children, screenings, resources, curriculum and assessments. Not only is it imperative that we have a cohesive preschool to K-3 system, to close the achievement gap, but we also need to start earlier with setting a foundation for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical) education in order for our children to be competitive in the local and global workforce. This is the future for our kids and so we have to really amp up our preparation. High quality early childhood experiences play a huge role in this.

I would like to see child care professionals all around the country get increased direct services through local, state or federal/national agencies, colleges/universities, or organizations to ensure they are receiving the most recent, innovative and evidence-based practices for their child care program and have high-speed capabilities to access the Internet.

What perspective do you think you particularly bring to your NACRHHS subcommittee?

I am excited to bring early childhood education and child care to the table, and also to bring a tribal perspective. The majority of reservations in this country, especially in the Midwest, are rural. I grew up on a reservation, and that usually means living in high poverty. (But growing up, we never knew we were poor.) Our first subcommittee meeting was to tackle the Head Start/child care conundrum—no one has been able to figure out how to get the two programs to work more closely together.

Of all the work you have done, what make you the most proud?

The proudest thing for me is my work with child care. You know, in the past, it was just thought of as babysitting. It’s opened up a whole new world of opportunities and services—school readiness, preschool, literacy. Our program was named as a Minnesota Star of the State because of its collaboration and quality efforts around children, families and communities. We facilitate an annual communities collaborative brain development conference (Minnesota’s largest) that brings in national and local experts to share the latest innovative and research around the children and the developing brain. With our collaborative partners we have initiated and facilitate multiple quality initiatives that involve the whole family, such as the Caring for Kids Store, Celebrating Father’s Festival, Celebrating our Children, Readmobile, home visiting, Autism Support Group, community-based child care facilities, parent training, Week of the Young Child, anti-bullying campaign, etc., because we believe that there are more than enough negative things happening in our communities, so we want to have plenty of positive family activities so children and families have options.

In our reservation, no one was doing community outreach around childhood education. The statement “it’s easier to build a child than fix an adult” holds true and in my current position, I take that seriously, while also trying to work and support parents to prevent out-of-home placements.


Opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rural Health Information Hub.

Back to: Fall 2012 Issue