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National day honors child care providers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi families and communities will have a chance to thank the people who care for and educate their children when the state celebrates Provider Appreciation Day on May 9.
“Early care and education providers help our society function,” said Lydia Bethay, project manager of Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network. “On the surface, they run child care programs for children from infancy through the school years with preschools, after-school programs and summer camps. Deeper, they support families by providing secure locations for children while their parents work. Without child care, parents cannot go to work.”
Mississippi has more than 2,000 child care centers and family child care providers who support families’ needs by offering child care, preschool, head start and school-age programs. The Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network, a program of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, offers resources, training and referral services to these early care and education providers and the parents and communities who depend upon them.
Early care and education providers offer a vital service in every community, whether they provide small, home-based programs or large programs that serve hundreds of children.
“Every day, directors and teachers do all they can to protect their children in the best and worst of times,” said Louise Davis, Extension professor and network director. “We saw this recently with the April 28 tornadoes.”
News outlets have reported widely on the story of Ruth Bennett, the owner of Ruth’s Child Care in Louisville who died while sheltering with a child during a tornado. The 4-year-old girl was found alive in Bennett’s arms by first responders, who credited the day care owner with saving the toddler’s life.
“Ms. Ruth’s story touches us because she literally gave her life while protecting a child in her care,” Davis said. “Early care and education providers commit themselves to the well-being of children, and that unfortunately sometimes means making the ultimate sacrifice as Ms. Ruth made that day.”
The recent storms have underscored the importance of providers who care for children. With some centers destroyed, families and providers are searching for ways to continue providing quality care.
“Several centers were damaged. At least two in Winston County and two in Tupelo were lost,” Davis said. “When we spoke to the center directors, their first concerns were where their children were going to go.”
In many areas across the state, child care opportunities are limited, and families remain on child care provider waiting lists. Access to child care is critical for parents who work. Providers know how much their services are needed, and they work to expand their programs while maintaining quality.
“Unaffected centers in Louisville are opening their doors to expand care for children in need. Once again, we’re seeing the early care and education professional providing dedicated support to their communities,” Davis said. “The same thing happened in Smithville and other areas hit by storms two years ago. Even after Katrina, providers on the coast worked to open as soon as possible because they knew parents could not return to work until they had safe child care options.”
Daphne Miller, a specialist at the MSU Early Childhood Institute, said communities depend upon access to quality, reliable child care. This dependence is why events like Provider Appreciation Day are so important.
“Too often these providers’ work is unrecognized. We invite everyone who uses child care to make the commitment to say thank you this Friday. Give a hug, bring flowers, write a note, grab a box of donuts for the staff, do something to let the centers in your community know how valued they are,” Miller said.
Provider Appreciation Day began in 1996 when a group of volunteers in New Jersey saw the need to recognize the efforts of those who care for children of working parents. Momentum for this event has grown each year, with support from individuals and government organizations throughout North America, Europe and Asia.
From the kitchen staff and administrative assistants to the teachers and directors, early care and education is a team effort. This recognition day is for everyone responsible for educating and caring for children.
“Providers open early and stay late. They are caring business owners, employers and educators that communities depend upon to provide quality care for children during their early years. Provider Appreciation Day is a wonderful time to recognize their important service,” Miller said.
For further resources and additional ideas for celebration, visit the Provider Appreciation Day website at http://www.providerappreciationday.org.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services Division of Early Childhood Care and Development funds the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network.