Innovative Communities Around Wisconsin

Communities around Wisconsin are coming up with innovative ideas to help solve the child care crisis. It’s hard to find affordable, high-quality child care that meets families’ needs in Wisconsin. However, affordable, high-quality child care could add a huge boost to Wisconsin’s economy each year. When we all invest in quality child care everybody in Wisconsin benefits. Download an infographic that illustrates how the community approach to solving child care challenges could work and read more about real communities putting these ideas into action below.

Does your community have their own solutions to share? Submit them through our innovative communities form and you may see them featured here too.

Black River Falls

Jackson County Childcare Network

In 2021, a collective impact was started with the Jackson County Childcare Network and Children's Wisconsin to engage the local community to address the ECE crisis in Jackson County and enhance protective factors for families to mitigate negative outcomes and support family well-being. Protective factors are attributes of individuals, families, or communities that can mitigate risk and promote healthy development and well-being, such as the capacity to cope with stress and trauma through skill-building, social connections, and resilience. Children’s, the main provider of community services in Jackson County, and the Jackson County Childcare Network determined the way to create change was to bring together the community, including businesses, tribal members, child care providers, elected officials, agency representatives, and caregivers to work on solutions in a collaborative capacity. 

We have been working together to facilitate outreach to stakeholders, seeking community input on strategies, and evaluating and reporting on progress. Building consensus around root causes and the impact of the ECE crisis and developing effective strategies to address it can only be done through ongoing community outreach and relationship building. This model of change is often referred to as the “collective impact model.” Children's WI and the Jackson County Childcare Network are working to create a shared understanding of protective factors through evidence-based training and community education and outreach to ensure that parents and caregivers in Jackson County are involved in developing solutions that work for them. To date, the collective impact has already held three community stakeholder meetings, attracting over 75 participants, ranging from parents to judges, school leaders, tribal leaders, early childhood educators, legislators, and social services providers. The outcome of these events was two fold: the bold and common goal of increasing the number of child care slots in Jackson County from 276 to 776 by 2028 (500 new slots) and six strategies were determined. Currently, three workgroups are meeting to work on these strategies and determine the metrics for each strategy. For Jackson County, having 276 childcare slots for over 1,000 children has many consequences for children, families, and businesses. 


Little Tigers Wraparound Gillett Elementary School 

We help families with alternative care since the child care provider in town doesn't have many openings. We found a way to help our community find care before and after school for our hard-working families. As of right now, this program has impacted 52 children, ages 3-12, by giving them alternative care while their families are working. This is our first year with the program. The program started September 5, 2023. We are hoping that after our community sees us advertise more, that more people will sign up and take advantage of our child care program. It's very hard to find care in our area that isn't full.

Green Bay

Brown County United Way, FRCNEW, and COMSA

Through a partnership between Brown County United Way, COMSA, and Family & Childcare Resources, foundational classes for early childhood educators have been offered to Somali Refugees. The partnership is providing translators and child care providers (to provide child care for the children of the participants in the class) so the participants can attend the class and hear the content in their first language. The first class, Foundations of Infant and Toddler Care, just wrapped up with 29 participants successfully completing the course. The team of translators and trainers is currently working to schedule the next class, Introduction to the Child Care Profession. By having early childhood professionals that reflect the diversity of our community families are more willing to bring their child to a child care program. Read the full article in the Green Bay Press Gazette.


Preschool of the Arts

We spent the spring and summer of 2022 developing a new equitable wage scale with the goal of creating a fair system of compensation across all of our child care workers and raising our wages to be competitive, fair, and rewarding. It impacted every member of our school community as every person employed by Preschool of the Arts received a considerable raise in salary. The key was to make sure whatever we did with the wage scale would be sustainable over the long haul. Our board is dedicated to making sure that happens, and staff salaries and benefits are priorities in our strategic plan for years to come. Treating teachers and early childhood staff like the experts they are is crucial for the quality of the program, the good of the children, and for supporting the families. Grateful every day that we could do this vital change!


Milwaukee Succeeds-led MKE ECE Coalition

The Milwaukee Succeeds-led MKE ECE Coalition began as a group of partners and community leaders working to support Milwaukee’s early childhood education sector through the pandemic, including distributing PPE and cleaning supplies and raising local and national philanthropic funds for flexible stabilization grants to over 440 ECE providers in predominantly Black and Brown communities. Over time, the Coalition has grown in membership and scope. Today, the Coalition is comprised of home- and center-based ECE providers, organizations that support early educators and families, and representatives of government, philanthropy, physical and mental health providers, and K12 and higher education. The Coalition has two goals: increasing access to quality, affordable ECE for Milwaukee’s Black and Brown families and increasing recruitment, retention, compensation, and professionalization of the ECE workforce. 

The Coalition has successfully advocated for the City of Milwaukee to invest $7 million in ARPA dollars into wage stipends for early educators and efforts to strengthen and diversify pathways into the workforce with a focus on young men of color. It has secured a $5 million state Workforce Innovation Grant to build a new pipeline into the ECE workforce based on earn-as-you-learn accelerated coursework, wraparound supports, career counseling, and job placement. It has provided 350 early educators and 450 families of young children with free mental health trainings and resources. Coalition members conduct timely research and analysis of needs and opportunities in Milwaukee’s ECE sector, including an analysis of the demographics, educational attainment, and career aspirations of the ECE workforce and a first-of-its-kind provider survey on the uses and impact of the Child Care Counts program. And the Coalition works to build awareness of the importance of ECE, the challenges facing the sector, and ways to support it among Milwaukee’s leaders and members of the public. 

Vision Forward

Vision Forward Association is a non-profit organization with more than 100 years’ experience serving individuals of all ages who are blind or visually impaired and their families. Our mission is to empower, educate, and enhance the lives of individuals impacted by vision loss through all of life’s transitions.

Vision Forward Association has a preschool program that is unlike any other. We serve children who are blind or visually impaired, including many who are medically fragile or have additional disabilities, and their families. We help each child develop toward his or her full potential. Many of our families are not able to work due to their child's complex medical needs and therefore, do not have access to Wisconsin Shares. Because of this, our program provides a pay as you can model. This ensures that each family who wants their child to attend the program can. Our program is a place where all abilities are represented, and opportunities flourish for children to develop self-esteem, social skills, and positive feelings towards learning. We believe that children who are blind or visually impaired can learn the same things as sighted children, just in different ways. We are committed to teaching children the special skills they need to compensate for their visual impairment.

Led by a certified Special Education teacher, our program is licensed as a daycare by the state of Wisconsin and is 5-Star rated YoungStar program. The preschool program provides a wide array of collaborative services that promote development of each child and is designed to achieve the following:

  • Promote appropriate growth in all areas of development to ensure readiness for school and beyond
  • Maximize each child’s visual and compensatory skills
  • Foster the highest level of independence within each child
  • Guide and support each family’s understanding of their child’s visual impairment by providing the tools needed for the family to best care for their child
  • Partner with families and share in the joy, challenge, and excitement of raising a child with a visual impairment

All staff is knowledgeable about Developmentally Appropriate Practices and incorporate this into our program daily. Learning occurs through a child-centered, exploratory approach and play is a major component of our program. Sufficient time, materials, and space is provided for children to actively explore the world around them. Children have the opportunity to use a variety of art materials, manipulatives, sensory exploration, music, movement, nature, and dramatic play. Our curriculum provides exposure to a variety of cultures through music, stories, games, and art, and we celebrate how we are all the same and how we are all different from one another. All staff have specialized training in ocular and cortical vision diagnoses and utilize this knowledge to modify their approaches.

Each child's chart and medical history are reviewed to create adapted learning opportunities and strategies that facilitate independence according to each child’s abilities and medical conditions. Because children served by the preschool program have unique needs, individualized plans for the child's care and developmental needs are created with their family. These plans ensure that the educational goals are consistent with family’s goals and reflect each child’s unique needs. Therapy is incorporated within the classroom as much as possible and may include music, speech and language, and occupational and physical therapy. We encourage teamwork and collaboration between our professional staff and parents/caretakers.

Our classroom combines the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) and the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards (WMELS) ensure that all children learn the skills essential to succeed in school and life. The ECC and WMELS are used as a framework for assessing children, planning individual goals, and providing instruction to learn the foundational skills necessary for future educational success. Children learn through play and exploration. Parents have the opportunity to learn more about the ECC and WMELS at parent meetings or at conferences.

The Expanded Core Curriculum is used to define concepts and skills that often require specialized instruction with students who are blind or visually impaired in order to compensate for decreased opportunities to learn incidentally by observing others. The areas taught include:

  • Compensatory or functional academic skills, including communication modes
  • Orientation and mobility
  • Social interaction skills
  • Independent living skills
  • Recreation and leisure skills
  • Career education
  • Use of assistive technology
  • Sensory efficiency skills
  • Self-determination

Our team is committed to serving the whole child and family and we offer a wide array of family events, educational opportunities, and support services throughout the year. In addition, our team works with the family their medical team and the child’s local school district to ensure a smooth transition into the school system.

Why does it matter? We want to ensure that children in Wisconsin with vision loss receive the important services that help them learn, grow, and succeed in life. Families who have children with complex medical needs have little options for their children to participate like their typical peers and find the support they need. As stated by one of the parents, Anna, whose daughter was served by our program, “A lot of families get that initial diagnosis and get stuck because they’re scared. It’s hard to make that first step to move forward and realize this isn’t the end of things for my kid. She’ll be able to learn and it’s going to be okay.”


Kids First Preschool & Child Care Center

Kids First is able to provide free child care to our employees for the first time. This is an added benefit for staff that we otherwise would not be able to provide. Early childhood teachers' rate of pay is low in comparison to teachers in the school district and to pay for child care as well can be difficult. 

On the side of a small business owner, it is very difficult to provide the benefits for our staff that make a job more attractive. If we want longevity with our staff, we need to be able to provide benefits. Partner Up! made this possible and it was a win/win situation for the employee, the employer, and our community.


A Million Dreamz

A Million Dreamz is not yet open but working through the licensing process. They are instituting a new approach to child care where the main focus is on service to families. They will be their county's only 24/7 child care center, offering full time, part time, and occasional care to meet the direct needs of each family. In addition, they have the support of a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Sheboygan to start their flexible rate program to make the costs of child care affordable to all.

In addition, they are instituting an Extra Needs Program for children with disabilities or challenging behaviors. They believe that these two additional programs combined with scheduling to meet the families where they are at will create a ripple effect in service to different sectors throughout the county. Workforce development, financial independence, elimination of child care expulsion rates, and lower rates of child abuse should follow the development of this center as they provide services to support the continuing development of healthy families.

Dream Up! Communities

As part of the Project Growth program, 28 communities were awarded $75,000 in Dream Up! grants. The Dream Up! Child Care Supply-Building grant program, administered by our partner, First Children’s Finance, focuses on building child care supply through a collaborative community approach. As these communities continue their strategic planning, we will provide updates. So far we have captured the work of two awardees in the videos below.

Bad River Tribe

Rusk County

Sun Prairie