Alaska’s longest running child development center is a guiding star for sustainable child care

SPONSORED: The Providence Center for Child Development shows how quality child care uplifts families, communities and businesses.

Presented by thread

The Providence Center for Child Development has been at the forefront of child care in Alaska for 40 years. Today, it is the longest running child development center in the state.

As Alaska struggles with a child care crisis, the center’s long-term success illuminates a path toward a sustainable future. Alongside thread, the child care resource and referral agency, it is helping advance Alaska’s quality of child care.

For Mary Wagner, whose son attends the Providence Center for Child Development, it provided services she didn’t even know her son would need.

Wagner is the senior philanthropy officer at Providence Alaska Foundation. She signed up for the center’s waitlist the day she found out she was pregnant. More than three years later, a spot opened up and her son was able to enroll.

In the meantime, Wagner found a place for him at a different child care facility. She soon noticed that he wasn’t forming attachments with the caregivers because turnover was too high. That worried her.

“We know that attachment is really important to child development,” said Wagner.

After a year at the facility, and a year at home during the 2020 pandemic, her son moved over to the Providence Center for Child Development. Wagner saw an immediate difference in the level of care.

“Right out of the gate, when we got him to Providence, the lead teacher was having open communication with me and providing observations about my son’s development,” she said.

When her son started showing signs that he had developmental needs, the team at Providence partnered with the Program for Infants and Children, bringing in a speech pathologist and occupational therapist to support him. The team walked Wagner’s family through best practices at home.

The support relieved enormous amounts of stress for the family.

“They care about the parents as much as they care about the kids,” Wagner said. “They realize that kids are in a family system and a child’s positive development has as much to do with mental health and wellness of their parents as anything else.”

Many kids won’t have the same needs as Wagner’s son. But for those who do, “being able to have your kids in a center that is supported by all of those ancillary services is really important,” she said.

What is quality child care?

The Providence Center for Child Development is open to children of employees at Providence Alaska. There are slots for 120 children, and the center is open Monday through Friday, for 12 hours a day. Providence Alaska subsidizes the program in order to retain high caliber staff and lower costs for families.

“Our commitment to providing this program for the employees here at Providence has been unwavering for 40 years,” said Chris Jurenka, manager of child care at Providence Alaska.

Quality child care means having “highly skilled staff who are able to provide an age-appropriate curriculum, including stimulating activities in a safe environment,” said Jurenka.

At the center, kids’ play areas are designed to be age-specific, dedicated to different stages of development. Instructors teach one group of kids, like an elementary school. Every lead teacher is credentialed in child development and additional staff ensure instructors are well-supported.

In addition, “the curriculum is one of the best and most research-based curriculum for preschool and child development,” said Wagner.

The center has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children since 1994. The center’s consistent standards have also earned it awards from thread. In March, the center was the first in Alaska to achieve Level 3 Learn & Grow quality recognition.

Learn & Grow, Alaska’s Quality Recognition & Improvement System, supports early childhood education programs in enhancing care quality. The program features five levels of quality standards, focusing on teacher-child interactions and nurturing learning environments.

“Learn & Grow has put forth a framework and provides assistance for child care programs in Alaska to work for towards higher quality in ways that makes sense,” said Jurenka.

“We’ve been early adopters for all of these initiatives, because we see the value in providing high quality programs for children during some of the most important development of their life,” said Jurenka.

An investment for more than your business

Employers who provide child care also benefit, said Florian Borowski, chief human resources officer at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

“What we’ve found is providing high quality child care at a reasonable rate is an amazing tool to recruit and retain working moms and dads,” said Borowski. “It’s an amazing investment.”

The challenge is employers may not see it that way, as the investment doesn’t pencil out in the short-term, he said. Over the long term, however, businesses can recruit from a wider pool of applicants and will retain existing employees.

“I’m proud of what Providence has been able to do,” Borowski said. “It’s part of our mission, what Providence is, and what we stand for. It’s about the greater good.”

Other Alaska hospitals have child care programs, too. At Alaska Regional Hospital, a nonprofit child care facility is housed on-site. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center also provide child care.

“Our hospitals are leading in many ways,” said thread CEO Stephanie Berglund.

For other businesses interested in starting a child care center or expanding upon an existing program, thread can help. The organization provides a wide range of free and low-cost resources for businesses, child care professionals and early educators.

“They are experts in this space and have great advice,” said Borowski.

thread’s holistic approach has a wide-ranging impact on the community. “They put forth so many initiatives that have been really important,” Jurenka said.

Alaska’s child care crisis is still unfolding. At the Providence Center for Child Development, a waiting list of over 200 children shows an incredible demand for care. And quality child care still comes with costs — it accounts for a large part of Wagner’s income.

“If it’s this challenging for people who have resources, I can only imagine what it’s like for our more marginalized and disenfranchised community members,” said Wagner.

In face of current challenges, organizations like Providence Alaska and thread are helping lead the way to a more sustainable future of child care.

“I’m deeply interested in the success of the program and opportunities to expand it whenever possible,” said Borowski.

“Children become citizens of our community. They become the future workforce in our state, and their success is important for the future,” said Jurenka.

Today, Wagner’s son and daughter both attend the Providence Center for Child Development. Her two-year-old daughter hasn’t needed as many additional resources as her son, but she’s still reaping huge rewards.

“When I drop my daughter off, she’s happy to see her teacher. She’s bonded to the adults that support her development there,” said Wagner.

That means she can happily focus on the day’s activities. And for Wagner, there’s no greater peace of mind.

thread is Alaska’s Child Care Resource & Referral organization, working to advance the quality of early education and child development by empowering parents, educating child care professionals, and collaborating with our communities.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with thread. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.