Supporting Trauma-Sensitive Early Childhood Education in Minnesota Through 80x3

The early childhood education sector is facing a crisis in Minnesota and across the nation. Amidst a shortage of staff and teachers for our youngest learners, educational programs are looking to take significant steps to bolster support for families and educators alike. "The cost of child care is ridiculous and completely unreasonable. Families aren't able to pay for child care, so they're not able to work. It really affects our entire economy and our entire well-being as a state,” says Krystal Shatek, new member of the 80x3 Advisory Committee. Krystal has been in early childhood education and administrative roles for over 20 years and also served on the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Task Force

Child care costs have skyrocketed to unsustainable levels for many families, putting many of those families in a position of working multiple jobs or sacrificing an income to take care of their children. Not only that, but many of the families that are served through Krystal’s program are coming from traumatic circumstances. Krystal notes, "Children that are from families that have gone through significant trauma... are coming from the highest number of adverse childhood experiences you can imagine." This trauma often manifests in disruptive behaviors in the classroom, further exacerbating the challenges faced by educators.

"Their trauma is expressed through their behavior, which affects the whole classroom," says Krystal. “However, many early childhood educators feel ill-equipped to handle these challenges without proper support and training.

On July 1, 2024, the state of Minnesota’s Early Learning Scholarships Program will be expanded to offer more comprehensive support to families. Krystal emphasizes, "The scholarships available right now don't cover the entire cost of child care." By increasing scholarship funding, more families will have the opportunity to access high-quality care for their children, supporting their academic and emotional development.

Creating a sustainable future for early childhood education requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the needs of both families and educators. Minnesota is taking significant steps toward transforming the early childhood education sector and ensuring that all children have access to high-quality care and support by expanding scholarships, prioritizing trauma-informed care, and investing in educator support and training.

Krystal says there is a need for "quality over quantity" in early childhood education initiatives. Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3: Resilient from the Start initiative is focused on "making sure that these teachers, these kids, these families all have safe spaces to work and learn and bring their children." This commitment to quality programming and support reflects a broader shift towards holistic, trauma-informed approaches to child care and education.

"The research that they put into it is incredible. And they have an amazing training program that they have designed for educators to help increase trauma-responsive programming and understanding," says Krystal. This evidence-based approach ensures that initiatives like 80x3 are not only effective but also sustainable in the long term.

The success of early childhood education initiatives hinges on the ability to support both families and educators. By addressing the systemic challenges facing the sector and prioritizing trauma-informed care and support, Minnesota is paving the way for a brighter future for all children. As Krystal aptly puts it, "We need to have a child care system that can support these families, not just until they hit the bare minimum of getting out of poverty, but until they're able to feel secure and thrive in the community."

Building Community: How 80x3 Transforms Family Support at Wilder Child Development Center

When a child has gone through adverse child experiences (ACEs) and developed stressors and trauma, family and caregivers are often the first to notice. To help children develop healthy coping mechanisms to buffer the negative effects of trauma, it falls to those families and caregivers to create a safe, trauma-sensitive environment that cultivates resilience. Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3 Resilient from the Start initiative works directly with program administrators to develop those trauma-sensitive care skills and in its first year alone has helped over 440 families in Minnesota. 

From resources, guides, and training modules to funding parent rooms and providing dedicated staff support, 80x3 empowers child care providers with invaluable resources, fostering stronger connections and a supportive community environment. These resources help develop the skills of teachers, have a direct impact on families and caregivers, and create an environment for children to develop the critical skills to rebound from ACEs.

The Wilder Child Development Center is witnessing the realization of a long-awaited dream with a helping hand from the 80x3 initiative—a dedicated parent room. This innovative space is poised to revolutionize family support in child care settings, offering a sanctuary for parents to decompress, connect, and thrive.

 “We've been a long-time partner with Greater Twin Cities United Way. Our partnership with 80x3 hit us at a really good time because we were really looking at how to support teachers in a different way,” said Angela Clair, Director of Early Childhood Services at Wilder.

Parents, the true architects of this initiative, expressed their longing for a haven within the center. The vision was clear: a room designed by parents, for parents. They envisioned a space where they could recharge before reuniting with their children, where they could share experiences and advice with peers, and where practical amenities, like access to a computer for printing documents, could ease the burden of administrative tasks.

“For a good amount of our families, social isolation is a big thing. And that's due to trusting those around you. We're a small enough center that we're pretty tight-knit. And I think when families are able to make those connections with another parent, that's someone that they can rely on and, and have as a support where they wouldn't have had that before,” said Angela.

Transforming this vision into reality required creativity, resourcefulness, and, most importantly, external support. The 80x3 funding provided the crucial catalyst needed to breathe life into the parent room project. What was once a dimly lit office space cluttered with paperwork has undergone a remarkable transformation. The room, now affectionately named "The Den," stands as a testament to the power of community collaboration and collective empowerment.

The parent room at the Wilder Child Development Center is a testament to the profound impact of trauma-sensitive care and holistic family support. By investing in resources and spaces that support parents, early childhood education programs can acknowledge the vital interplay between parental resilience and child development.  A parent who feels supported, heard, and valued is better equipped to nurture their child's growth, fostering a cycle of positivity and empowerment within the community.

By embracing trauma-informed approaches and prioritizing holistic family support, child care centers can foster stronger connections within their communities, empower caregivers with valuable skills and resources, and ultimately shape a brighter future for all children

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Building Resilient Early Childhood Educators: How 80x3 Supports Teacher Well-Being

 A 2022 study showed that 45% of early childhood educators reported to be battling mental health challenges and burnout. Just as educators care for children, they must also care for themselves and each other. To ensure teachers can give their all to every student, Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 80x3: Resilient from the Start initiative partners with educators and program administrators to provide a wide array of resources promoting teacher well-being and professional development. 80x3 works with professional development providers and early childhood programs to give teachers growth opportunities focused on trauma-sensitive care, including training, workshops, and cohorts.

Educators like those at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center located in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, MN utilize the training offered through 80x3 to recognize triggers and traumas in their classroom and it has “opened their eyes” as teachers. The Hallie Q. Brown program was founded as part of an effort to address the growing challenges facing marginalized communities, in particular African American families, in Minnesota’s capital city. The mission of the center is to enhance community well-being by offering essential human services, preserving African American heritage, and promoting personal development, self-reliance, and community leadership.  96% of the program's enrollment is African American and 95% of the families are low-income.

Hallie Q. Brown and many other early childhood centers have seen an uptick of students entering their programs with stresses and trauma that were not being addressed in traditional child care settings. When left unaddressed, trauma and stresses experienced by children in the first few years of their life can significantly impact their brain and body development, potentially leading to long-term consequences on their physical, emotional, and cognitive well-being. Angelica Goettl, Assistant Executive Director at Hallie Q. Brown, and her staff saw the need to help and jumped into action, utilizing the partnership with 80x3 to prioritize trauma-informed care development programs for staff to get ahead of the curve. The team noticed an incredible improvement in the children and the classroom atmosphere as the impact of this training became more evident. Caring, communication, and a consistent feedback loop between child and educator have created a more constructive, growth-oriented classroom for each student. "The training has made such a difference, not just for myself or the staff, but for the kids,” Angelica said.

Angelica stresses how important it is for the holistic success of the program for teachers to be feeling their best, something professional development programming through the 80x3 partnership has highlighted as a key to providing the best care for every child. "When life is getting in the way, you're not giving 100% to those little people. We want to give every teacher the resources so they can be here 100%," she remarked. “They bring us the resources to face the challenges that we are dealing with. They do the legwork, they do the research, and we can feel confident doing our work with their support.” Angelica and her colleagues recognize traumas and triggers within each other, just as they would with the children in their classroom.

High job turnover and burnout are a critical challenge in education as teacher shortages continue to worsen across the country. According to Forbes, roughly one-quarter, 24%, of teachers have expressed the inability to cope with job stress compared to just 12% of workers in other professions, underscoring the need to prioritize the well-being of educators as essential to maintaining a positive and effective learning environment for young children. Hallie Q. Brown’s partnership with 80x3 has given educators like Angelica and her team access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have, allowing them to impart trauma-informed care practices not only in their classrooms but also in their interactions with one another. When educators take care of themselves and each other, they can create a more nurturing and positive learning environment.

If you would like to learn more about opportunities for educators and classrooms through 80x3 Resilient from the Start, click here.