DIEEC Celebrates Week of the Young Child

DIEEC celebrated “The Week of the Young Child” during April 2 with a host of activities showcasing the joy of early childhood and raising awareness of the importance of early childhood education.

Our social media platforms featured programs throughout the state, amplifying the National Association of Education for Young Children’s (NAEYC) daily themes. As a part of our outreach, we spread joy by donating 50 activity bags to young children in long-term care at Nemours Children Hospital.  

Finally, we hosted a webinar on teaching social and emotional resilience with early child care leaders and experts on this topic.  

Click here to view “The Heart of Early Childhood Education: Teaching Social and Emotional Resilience in Young Children” recording.

UD Helps Delaware Child Care Programs

Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood aids distribution of federal funds

The University of Delaware’s Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood (DIEEC) and state partners have joined forces to ensure early childhood professionals get the financial help they need to serve the state’s most vulnerable— young children and families.

In March 2021, Delaware’s health and social services and education departments received more than $66 million designated for the Delaware Early Education and Child Care Stabilization Fund through the American Rescue Plan Act. The Fund was created by the state to help early childhood professionals stay in business and make their services more affordable for families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Stabilization Fund was unique in that it was something completely new, needed to be implemented quickly and provided an incredible opportunity for the state to support the child care community,” said Thomas Hall, director of social services for the State of Delaware. “The [American Recovery Plan Act] that authorized the program was very prescriptive, so we needed to make meticulous efforts to ensure we followed the rules established in [the act].”

In addition to compliance, the state wanted to design and implement a system for early childhood professionals to easily apply for grants from The Fund. Enter DIEEC, an organization within the UD’s College of Education and Human Development, committed to supporting the needs of Delaware’s early childhood community.

Due to the pandemic, the institute, which regularly works with early childhood professionals on improving the quality of their programs, was able to shift some of its resources to help the state administer financial support for early childhood education programs.

“We met with stakeholders to discuss challenges from previous grant initiatives and we used their feedback to inform the application and review process,” said Kristy Sheffler, deputy director of DIEEC. “Once the requirements were decided, we intentionally developed a comprehensive system to support early childhood professionals along the way.”

To promote the system and generate statewide awareness of The Fund, DIEEC used an integrated communications plan featuring a variety of outreach tools, such as webinars and social media. It also provided professional learning opportunities to inform early childhood professionals about using their grants effectively.

“Many programs expressed an interest in using Stabilization Fund sub-grants to strengthen their outdoor-learning environments, and a [DIEEC] team developed training and coaching experiences specific to designing and building outdoor environments,” said Sheffler. “We also offered training and coaching to support administrators with financial management and other business practices.  

Finally, DIEEC provided technical assistance to all interested early childhood professionals through in-person events and other activities to aid in the application process.

“DIEEC comes to the table with a ‘can do’ attitude and resolve,” said Hall. “As a team, they are extremely flexible, conscientious, knowledgeable and innovative.”

The coordinated effort between DIEEC and the State of Delaware has been tremendously successful. Since March, more than 85% of eligible programs have applied for sub-grants with more than $55 million distributed. 

Family child care professional Carol Crawley is one of the many recipients of the fund. She used her sub-grant to make upgrades to her home child care facility, such as adding non porous flooring in the areas where the children spend their time.

“I used the entire amount to make my daycare as safe from COVID or future pandemics as possible,” said Crawley. “This decision will strengthen my business and keep my daycare children safe.”

Multiple factors contributed to many child care programs and facilities closing during the pandemic.

“We heard from professionals at several programs who shared they would have had to close otherwise, because of the combination of increased costs due to the pandemic and lower, less consistent enrollment,” said Sheffler. “We also heard from numerous child care owners and administrators who were ecstatic that they could provide well-earned bonuses to their hardworking staff.”

The fund has been so successful that the state added a fourth round of grant distribution during the first quarter of 2022, which DIEEC will continue to support.

Delaware Stars staff member delivering supplies during COVID-19 pandemic

UD Helps With Early Care and Education Programs

Delaware Stars provides essential supplies and educational assistance

Imagine teaching 3-year-olds to practice social distancing. Not an easy task, but one of many requirements that early care and education programs must implement to stay open during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Early childhood professionals are today’s frontline responders, taking children’s temperatures, rigorously disinfecting classrooms and implementing social distancing to help Delawareans return to their workplace.

Fortunately, early childhood professionals aren’t alone. Delaware Stars, a state-funded program within the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood (DIEEC) at the University of Delaware, charged with helping early care and education programs improve quality, has provided much-needed resources, such as thermometers, cloth face coverings and hand sanitizers to more than 600 programs statewide through contactless delivery.

“The goal of DIEEC is to improve the quality of early care and education programs throughout the state of Delaware,” said Rena Hallam, director of DIEEC and professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. “The work in Delaware Stars is a great example of how we have adapted to meet the changing needs of early childhood programs during this difficult time.”

The Institute is housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences in the College of Education and Human Development.

Before Gov. John Carney issued a State of Emergency on March 12, 2020, Delaware Stars staff supported early care and education programs through what is known as “technical assistance.” Technical Assistants are child care experts who work with early childhood professionals throughout the state to create successful outcomes for Delaware’s youngest learners.

“Through Delaware Stars, we partner with early care and education programs and support quality improvements by being responsive to program needs,” said Kristy Sheffler, director of Delaware Stars. “However, the content of the areas we’re supporting has shifted with COVID-19.”

Nikki Nokes, an early childhood professional from The Children's Place in Camden, Delaware, is overwhelmed with joy after receiving healthcare supplies from Delaware Stars staff.

Nikki Nokes, an early childhood professional from The Children’s Place in Camden, Delaware, is overwhelmed with joy after receiving healthcare supplies from Delaware Stars staff.

The Stars’ mission and that of the entire early care community ramped up during COVID-19. In early April, when businesses closed, many early care and education programs became emergency child care sites so Delaware’s essential personnel could work.

Early childhood professionals were required to navigate a new set of safety and health requirements. With Delaware Stars staff no longer allowed in child care sites, supporting programs required responsive and creative thinking. Delaware Stars quickly mobilized to support early childhood professionals virtually with a menu of options, including weekly Zoom calls with technical assistants, webinars, and other resources to share step-by-step instructions for keeping children safe and healthy.

“Had it not been for Stars, I would have not been able to continue operating,” said Tressa Clemow, owner of Lovebug Lane Learning Academy, a large family early care and education program in Wilmington, Delaware. “My technical assistant keeps me in the loop of all the requirements every step of the way, helping me access all the resources, including financial support to keep me open.”

As the state moved through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of reopenings in June, more child care sites opened to the same stringent health screenings and hygiene requirements as emergency child care sites.

“The number of programs that chose to adapt their operations to meet all of the updated licensing and health regulations, so they could remain open and serve their children and families, blew me away,” said Sheffler. “When we started hearing that the programs that chose to remain open weren’t able to find hand sanitizer, that the touchless thermometers were hard to come by and expensive, we wanted to do our part and be responsive to make sure that Delaware’s early childhood professionals had the supplies that they needed to keep their children, their families, and themselves safe.”

The Stars sprang into action. In addition to assembling more than 600 healthcare kits, about 20 Stars staff members spent several days canvassing the state to deliver the kits in a contactless manner.

“Early childhood professionals are essential personnel in every way – our state wouldn’t function without them,” said Sheffler.

“We are so thankful for all that Stars is doing and for thinking of us with the kits,” said Cindy Jones, early childhood professional from Room to Bloom, a family early care and education program in Dover, Delaware. “We know Stars has had to make adjustments during the pandemic so we are especially appreciative of their staff taking the time to put together the bags and delivering them to us.”

Article by Lin Nordmeyer | Photos courtesy of Heather Cobb and Nikki Nokes