Community Coordinated Child Care began more than 40 years ago with a referral service for parents searching for child care in and around DeKalb. Since then, both the list of services offered by 4-C and the area it serves has grown tremendously.
On a day last spring at the Children's Learning Center in DeKalb, Curriculum Director Shannon Alamia offers a visitor a quick survey of the the facility.
"We’ve got 2, 4s and 5s groups right here and then we have a 3s and 4s group right here, and then as you go down the building we’ve got our younger classrooms, the 2s and 3s. And then we also have our toddler and infant room behind us."
The large open room is filled with a series of small low-walled classrooms, each with children being led by teachers in some kind of planned activity - or maybe it’s just play. It’s hard to tell which, but there’s no mistaking the children’s enthusiasm.
Nancy Teboda has been the Center’s Executive Director for the past six years. But she’s worked at the center in one capacity or another for more than 31 years, and she’s seen firsthand how 4-C has changed.
“I’ve seen 4-C grow from an agency that had a nurse, an executive director, a social worker, office manager and a food program coordinator. So about five staff.”
Now that number is closer to fifty. Teboda says she calls on 4-C staff regularly, to help identify and deal with social, physical or mental health issues that may be affecting a child who seems to be having problems.
Teboda says she and her 53 full- and-part-time employees serve 180 families each month. She says keeping her staff, as well other child care providers, up-to-date on what they need to know is another way 4-C has been invaluable – and growing.
“It used to be we would go to 4-C for maybe first aid and CPR training, and a few trainings throughout the year on hot topics in early care and education, to now, I can’t even tell how many a month that are offered.”
Those trainings cover a wide variety of topics, and include ones tailored specifically for people at large centers like her staff, workshops for small home care providers or those interested in becoming one, and parents. Teboda says 4-C also helps the center match its needs with the resources available through state and federal programs.
4-C’s Executive Director, Susan Petersen, says all this grows out of 4-C’s mission to provide a coordinated system to serve children, parents and professionals.
“The main focus of 4-C is to support. To support families that are either transitioning into child care or looking for quality child care. Working with providers that maybe have some emotional needs or maybe just some behavior needs and making sure those children are learning and happy and stable, in an environment that best suits their development.”
Petersen says some of 4-C’s growth came from parents and care-givers calling for more help and information. Some change has come because of changing demographics, which led to the addition of a Spanish speaker in each of its programs. Some change arose out of partnerships with schools and other organizations. And some came from Illinois’ interest in establishing and regulating standards of child care. That led the state in the 1990s to make 4-C a regional center in a statewide resource and referral system. Now it’s the go-to agency for child care in Carroll, DeKalb, Lee, McHenry, Ogle and Whiteside Counties.
Still based in DeKalb, 4-C is working to extend its services to all the counties it now serves. It has added an office in McHenry and regularly holds workshops there, as well as the YWCA in Sterling and schools in the area.
If a large facility like Children’s Learning Center finds 4-C’s services a big help, to an operation like Donna Klemm’s, they’re a necessity. Klemm runs a child care service, Donna's Child Care, out of her home in Cortland.
“The kids arrive about 6:30 in the morning. We do breakfast at 7:30, get them off to school at 8. The littler ones we do have, we do pre-school curriculum in the morning – tumble time, story time, crafts.”
Then there’s lunch, recess and more activities, plus homework with the kids coming in after school.
In fact, it’s much like the curriculum at the Children’s Learning Center, just on a smaller scale and with a staff of one. And like the Center, Klemm must meet a host of requirements to keep operating. Klemm says 4-C’s assistance has been crucial.
“I’m not really sure what I do without 4-C, because they have provided so many programs to help us. We need 15 hours of training per year. They provide us with a food program to help offset the cost of providing nutritious meals. Mental health assistance, nursing - they just help us out tremendously.”
Klemm says 4-C has helped in other ways. She points to a desktop computer next to her. It came by way of a state program, and Klemm says 4-C was invaluable in guiding her through the application process.
Susan Petersen says Teboda and Klemm are just two examples out of many such operations that 4-C serves: from the very large to the very small and everything in between. Not to mention parents, and of course, the children. And how many is that? Petersen says based on its own reports and that of its partners, 4-C affected about 35,000 children in some way last year. Multiplied over the decades, the numbers are staggering. But, Petersen says, that’s not the way she likes to look at it.
“What I really feel is the important number is the one. That one child that has a vision screening and now has glasses, that one child with maybe a behavior problem. You impact that one child, that one family, you’re impacting the whole community.”
So Petersen says, 4-C will keep going, and growing - one child at a time.