Finding child care in Anchorage just became a lot easier for Alaska Native families thanks to Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s (CITC) newest project, the Clare Swan Early Head Start Child Care Center.
“The bottom line is there’s a significant shortage of infant daycare in the community,” said CITC Family Services Manager and CIRI shareholder Connie Wirz. “Here, we’re providing not just child care for the families most in need, but consistent, quality early learning and family support. That’s an important piece: Trying to encourage and support families wherever they’re at.”
According to a study released in 2015 by the Economic Policy Institute, a typical Alaska family would have to spend a quarter of its total income on child care for an infant and a 4-year-old. And that’s for families who can find care. A separate 2016 study by the State of Alaska found that 43 percent of child care providers had waiting lists, many as long as two or three years. Problems can be compounded for children with disabilities or special needs.
The Clare Swan Early Head Start Child Care Center, which opened March 1, will serve up to 72 children, ages six weeks to 36 months, with nine classrooms, two of which offer 10-hour programs for children whose parents require extended childcare. Any family may apply to this income-eligibility-based Head Start program, with preference given to existing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Care Assistance families. Applicants must provide a birth certificate, proof of income and Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB), along with an online application.
While CITC will provide family services staff and support, the Anchorage Vineyard Early Learning Center will administer the day-to-day oversight of the center and provide teachers with specialized training in social/emotional learning. The Clare Swan Early Head Start Child Care Center places an emphasis on employing Alaska Native/American Indian (AN/AI) teachers and employees, with about 90 percent of its staff composed of AN/AI employees.
The location of the Clare Swan Early Head Start Child Care Center, at 800 Northway Drive in Anchorage, was chosen for its ease of access to the Nat’uh Service Center, just a couple blocks north, where the bulk of CITC’s programs and services are offered. CITC purchased the facility, a former restaurant, and with Cook Inlet Housing Authority acting as project manager, gutted the building and refurbished it, adding classrooms, a commercial kitchen, a staff lounge, health center and meeting room. Outside, a colorful playground is designed around a giant map of Southcentral Alaska.
The center is named after Clare Swan, who served on CIRI’s Board of Directors from 1991 to 2005 and was honored with CIRI’s Shareholder of the Year Award in 2013. Swan is CITC’s current board chair and a 2011 inductee into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, she was honored as Elder of the Year by the Alaska Federation of Natives. Swan is recognized for her achievements in political activism related to issues that affect Alaska Native people, including subsistence fishing rights and community health.
Thanks to a Language Nest Grant from the Administration for Native Americans, the Clare Swan Early Head Start center will offer three Yup’ik language immersion classes — the first of their kind in Anchorage. A Tribal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program grant awarded to the center will also equip CITC to provide intensive support to families in the program and in the greater community.
“People think, ‘Oh, it’s a daycare center,’ but it’s really so much more,” Wirz said. “It’s an early learning center. Or really, it’s more a family learning center, because our families are learning, too.”
Special thanks to CITC’s Jamey Bradbury for contributing to this article.