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By Marie Huey (Video by Kristie Thorson)
People Serving People is Minnesota’s largest and most comprehensive homeless shelter, housing around 100 families per night. The average age of children at the shelter is six, so the shelter provides resources to support young children and their parents. One of these resources is a child care center. With four classrooms and capacity for 42 children, the child care center is Four Star Parent Aware rated and accredited through the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA).
Teachers at the center need unique skills and knowledge to best serve the children and families.
“Part of our ongoing, process both in the shelter as a whole and in our specific department, is talking about what [trauma] can do to your brain—what it might look like for a family experiencing homelessness. We build that skillset right away in our teachers,” says Emma Juon, Educational Services Manager. While some come with knowledge of trauma-informed care, PSP builds on that knowledge and incorporates new information as it becomes available.For many children at the center, it is their first time in a child care program, and the average stay in the shelter is 41 days. The adjustment and short time frame is a challenge, but staff welcome the children and give them opportunities to participate and explore.
Stability and consistency are important in the classrooms. Children need to feel safe secure before they’re ready to fully engage in the environment. Each of the rooms has a daily routine. Additionally, there’s no start or end to the school year at PSP’s center. Programming runs year round.
“There’s never really a start of the school year for us. There’s never really an end of the school year for us, and we can have new children join our center any day of the week,” says Emma.
In order to adapt to their unique situation, the center uses a combination of creative curriculum and their own curriculum. Instead of following a two week cycle, they expanded it to a month. This allows more time for repetition and skill building, which is helpful for the children, who often attend inconsistently.
Trauma-informed care includes considerations for the physical space the children are in. To reduce stimulation and provide a welcoming environment for the infants and toddlers, staff cover the fluorescent lights with cloth and try to minimize extra sound.
A highlight for the children is when the Bunny Besties come to visit. The group comes twice a month with therapy rabbits. The children and bunnies read together. The kids practice their gentle touches when petting the rabbits. Each child receives a book and stuffed bunny to take with them to practice reading.
Parents like that the center is onsite. If they have any questions or want to see how their child is doing, they can easily check in with the teachers. People Serving People connects parents to a variety of resources based on their needs. While it doesn’t always work out smoothly, in the best case scenario they help parents find early learning programs for their children when they leave.
“We provide them with access to the Parent Aware website. We help them find places around their neighborhood where they can send their children. We give them the best start out in the community we can.”