Cary Hottes, left, and Tranae Brockhouse discuss a presentation about Project CHILD and Child Care Resource and Referral programs during the June 8 Rend Lake College Board of Trustees meeting.
MT. VERNON (June 16, 2021) – For more than 30 years, the Project CHILD and Child Care Resource and Referral programs at Rend Lake College have helped families across southcentral Illinois find affordable and accessible childcare options and solutions.
Project CHILD started in 1990 through a grant funded by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. While it began as a way to give parents options for childcare, it has since evolved into a way to assist families, facilities and their children across 12 counties.
The mission of Project CHILD is to advance the quality, affordability and accessibility of child care. Staff members specialize in connecting parents with quality child care providers. The vision enables area children to develop to their fullest potential.
The program grew from its two initial offices on campus to set up shop in Mt. Vernon six years later. When RLC bought the MarketPlace, also located in the King City, Project CHILD was the first non-retail occupant.
The move to the RLC MarketPlace puts Project CHILD nearby other human service offices so parents and guardians in need can get the most out of one visit. The Illinois Department of Human Services and Employment Security is also located at the MarketPlace.
“It has been a fantastic option for parents,” Director Tranae Brockhouse told the Rend Lake Board of Trustees during a recent meeting. “We are kind of a one-stop-shop."
The Child Care Assistance Resource and Referral Program is open to families who are working and enrolled in college, high school or GED program. There are income guidelines, and eligible families pay a co-payment, or portion of the child care fees. The Project Child office currently helps about 700 families. A small percentage of those caseloads include homeless families and those moving from DCFS placement.
CCRR Coordinator Cary Hottes said during the presentation that one misconception is that the services are only available to those who fall under Department of Human Service guidelines for aid.
“A common myth is that we only serve single parents,” Hottes said. “That is not at all the case. The income guidelines have expanded quite a lot in the last 27 years.”
The CCRR program is open to students who are working on their associate’s degrees. Because parents can choose the caregivers, it is flexible enough to accommodate different work and class schedules.
“The program allows them to pay for whatever childcare provider that works for them and suits their needs,” Brockhouse said.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Child had as many as 1,100 cases and paid more than $850,000 per month in childcare fees, with most used for priority essential workers. In May, the office paid $590,000 in childcare fees.
There is a current increase in applications as more employees and students return to work and school after the past year in lockdown.
There are several ways interested families can contact the office to drop off applications, including mail, email, fax, online or through a drop box at its location. Hottes said the pandemic changed several ways in how the office was able to communicate with those seeking services.
“We really expanded the way that we serve families,” she said. “We saw COVID as a great opportunity to provide even better customer support as people were trying to navigate new technologies and how to assist with even the most basic processes. I feel like the program really stepped up. They made themselves more available in more ways than they ever had.”
Another service provided by the office is the Child Passenger Safety program. This initiative uses trained technicians can check out and verify that a car seat is installed properly. Statistics have shown that four out of five seats are not correctly put in place.
“We often get calls from those who cannot afford a car seat,” Brockhouse said. “We had one girl who was taking the public bus to high school… We ended up giving her two car seats, one for a friend who said she could transport her and one for her to have. A car seat was literally what was keeping her in school.”
Although the car seat program was recently funded through the Illinois Department of Transportation, the state department has since shifted its focus to other driving-related issues. Brockhouse said staff has remained committed and willing to help those in need while supplies last.
“We will continue to help as much as we can,” she said.
Now that things are starting to get back to some sense of normalcy, both Brockhouse and Hottes said they are looking forward to reaching out to the communities about the provided services.
“We had seen a decline during COVID,” Hottes said. “We are eager to serve more and have already seen an increase in that volume again.”
The Project CHILD and CCRR office also provides parenting services, where staff can counsel on child care referrals and education, provide information on child care options in their communities and connect them to other resources.
Brockhouse said the office also helps recommend recent community college graduates for employment. She added that many centers and facilities in need of professionals who specialized in early education.
“Every single childcare program needs staff,” Brockhouse said. “It’s a big huge issue. Staffing is a problem. There are centers that have closed rooms simply because they do not have enough staff.”
Located at 327 Potomac Blvd., Suite C, in Mt. Vernon, Project CHILD is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.