When parents of young children want to improve their own skills and education to provide a better future for their family, they need someone to take care of their children while they are in training or classes, completing homework, and studying. Child care offered during the hours parents need, at the price they can afford, and that is safe and appropriate for their children is difficult to find and access.
The good news is that some child care–focused organizations, workforce development agencies, and postsecondary education institutions across the country are collaborating to improve child care access and affordability for low-income parents. Our latest report in the Bridging the Gap series, Partnering to Meet the Child Care Needs of Parents in Education and Training, profiles four such partnerships as examples of how to approach the challenges associated with building these relationships and connecting parents with services.
These organizations all recognize how important education and training are to these families. Still, many things can prevent organizations from effectively working together, like funding constraints and policy barriers that limit parent eligibility or access or the agency silos that get in the way of partnership.
When facing such challenges, staffers at one organization ask themselves, “What will actually help our clients ultimately?…Anytime we come to a crossroads where we have difficulty, we always come back to that one principle.” Together, the organizations can create workarounds to address some of these barriers, but more systematic solutions are needed.
And these solutions can’t be developed or implemented overnight. Building strong, lasting partnerships requires long-term effort. As one collaborator said, “It takes time to build relationships of mutual respect and sitting around the table and saying, ‘what do you want from this partnership?’” And even after you establish a partnership, it doesn’t mean you can stop working on it. As another collaborator said, “It’s just like any relationship, marriage…sometimes marriages need to be renewed, so do agency marriages.”
Meanwhile, any organization can think about how to collaborate for the greater good by keeping in mind the lessons our profiled partners learned in developing and sustaining their partnerships:
- Build trust by spending time together or talking regularly.
- Take time to understand and support each other’s goals and values.
- Have a mechanism to engage with partners, like regular trainings and check-in meetings.
- Have administrative leadership, support, and focus (in other words, embed relationship-building into someone’s job).
- Use data and technology effectively to document needs, provide services efficiently, and measure success.
- Focus on maintaining and renewing relationships over time.
Stay tuned for additional information about strategies used across the country to bridge the gap in a future report.