Missy Okeson, childcare program officer for Northwest Minnesota Foundation and member of the Advance TRF Childcare Collaborative, recently had the opportunity to interview Natasha Stengrim, one of Minnesota’s new childcare WayFinders. The following is excerpted from their conversation.
Okeson: Natasha, welcome to this episode of Profiles in Childcare.
Stengrim: Thank you.
Okeson: Can you tell us about your background in childcare?
Stengrim: I’ve been involved in childcare in some way shape or form for almost sixteen years. I started working at a center when I was in college. From there, I moved to a different location and taught all ages from infant to preschool. When I started having kids, I decided to nanny for a family for a little while. After that, we decided to move back to Northern Minnesota, and I worked as disabilities and mental health manager for Head Start. I was there for seven years before becoming a navigator for the WayFinder program last June.
Okeson: Great, great, experiences! So, what is the WayFinder program?
Stengrim: The state of Minnesota has launched a few innovative programs this last year, one of them being the WayFinder program, and the other being the Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) program. The WayFinder program is a one-stop navigation network for starting or growing childcare in Minnesota. We provide personalized support to help individuals so they can create, sustain, and/or expand licensed family childcare and center-based programs. We offer encouragement, support, and connection to many resources that are available for childcare programs.
WayFinder and Family, Friends, and Neighbor Programs
Okeson: What is the Friends Family Neighbor (FFN) part of the program?
Stengrim: the FFN program provides support and resources to caregivers who provide childcare outside of the traditional settings. An FFN caregiver might be a relative, a friend, or someone providing care restricted to related children or one unrelated family at a time. These caregivers are more than just babysitters, so we want to provide them with resource kits, information on furthering their training or education, and connect them to resources and information. We can promote children’s health and safety through assisting them with first aid training and getting CPR certified or, if they so choose, helping them get the training they need to become a licensed provider.
Support for Providers
Okeson: How, specifically, can you help new providers?
Stengrim: My number one job is providing support. I want to help new providers or individuals interested in becoming providers achieve their goals. My job is to be the resource and to do that in the way that is convenient for them, whether they want to meet one-on-one, communicate via text message, email, phone, or virtual meetings—I’m here for them. I help guide new providers through the licensing process. I provide them with information on grants, loans, forgivable loans, all that are currently available. Also, I will help answer any questions they might have along the way. Additionally, I connect them with other professionals that can help them on this journey. It takes a whole village to help them, just like it does to raise children.
Okeson: How about FFN providers that are caring for children?
Stengrim: My goal is to provide support and that includes the FFN program. We meets individuals where they’re at and help them where they want to go. The goal is to provide the best outcomes for the children in their care of course, so I also strive to educate those FFN caregivers about the option of becoming a legal, non-licensed provider and how that would help them participate in the childcare assistance program. If they choose to go that route, I’ll help them get there.
Okeson: How about early educators that have been doing this for a while? Can you help them?
Stengrim: The WayFinder helps by providing them any information they’re looking for as they continue providing care for children. It also helps them if they are going to expand. I will meet with them just like I would someone starting a new childcare and I can assist them through that process of expanding and including more children if they choose.
Geographic Service Area
Okeson: What portion of Northwest Minnesota do you cover?
Stengrim: I serve region one in Northwest Minnesota, including Roseau, Kittson, Pennington, and East Marshall counties.
Okeson: How can people reach you if they would like more information on the WayFinder program or the FFN program?
Stengrim: My email is email@example.com or people can call my work phone number, 218-281-0188, and just leave a message.
Okeson: This sounds like exactly what we need in our region to help providers get the information they need in a timely fashion and help with questions that arise. Going to a specific person will be so helpful. Thank you so much, Natasha, for sharing this resource opportunity with us.
That’s Profiles in Childcare brought to you by the Advance TRF Childcare collaborative. Be sure to follow us on Facebook @AdvancedTRFchildcare and on YouTube, @AdvanceThiefRiver.
More About Profiles in Childcare
“Profiles in Childcare” is a series of stories, highlighting the people who are working in, and for, childcare in our region.
These stories are being collected and published by Advance TRF Childcare Collaborative.
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