square bulletCaring for Child Care Workers: Strategies From the Field

April 22, 2020

From Hadiyah Miller, Early Childhood Consultant, and Carmen Ellis, Training Coordinator, Child Care Resource and Referral of Multonomah County along with Ana Hristić, MA, LCSW, Director of Education & Workforce Strategies, Trauma Informed Oregon

Hadiyah Miller (Early Childhood Consultant at Child Care Resource and Referral of Multnomah County) and Carmen Ellis (Training Coordinator at Child Care Resource and Referral of Multnomah County) talk with Trauma Informed Oregon’s Ana Hristić about the unique circumstances and needs of child care workers. This interview explores some of the strategies they are using at Child Care Resource and Referral of Multnomah County to care for the wellness of child care workers.

This video is 21:58 minutes long.

Ana: I’m going to turn it over to you just to introduce yourselves and maybe if you can, I guess paint a picture of what, what is your unique experience of this stressful time? The unique experience for you and your staff. What makes it so for you? 

Hadiyah: Well, I’m Hadiyah Miller and I work at the R&R Multnomah County and my role is a QA specialist, which means I support family childcare center-based teachers in their programs. I’m looking at things like how, you know, how the environment impacts what kind of curriculum, your relationships with children and families and with each other. And also, presently I am the coordinator for the African American childcare network. 

Carmen: My name is Carmen Ellis and I am the Training Manager at the CCR&R, I work closely with Hadiyah. And in the last few weeks, I have dropped almost everything on our training work in order to just address the ongoing needs and changing needs of childcare providers, and helping people keep up with what’s going on with emergency care, and also spending a lot of time understanding and reaching out to providers to understand what it is that they need as an educator to be supported in this time. Whether that’s keeping a business open or being successful with children. 

Ana: Yeah. 

Carmen: So, our priorities- 

Ana: So, it sounds like you both have good pulse on what’s happening for childcare providers right now? How would you, how would you describe it? What’s the day in a life of, what are the underlying needs and concerns? 

Hadiyah: I think for me is just the fear of the unknown, and just trying to figure out, particularly for programs as they’re having to make decisions around, do I keep my program opened? Do I close my program? And I think that for me, what evolved out of this discussion that Carmen and I had had was looking at this kind of social emotional piece for families and children and providers, that most of this focus is really on survival, which is important. But I also think we have to think about, so what is the impact, right? 

And I think that for a lot of our providers, I mean, I think even for us as a staff is like how do you balance that between your own family needs, as well as what that means, because most of us are in this field because we truly care about children and families. And how do you set limits or guidelines around that, not to feel guilty about that? I can’t make that one phone call I remember like last Friday about two o’clock, it just hit me when you said that thing about being online and I literally had to walk away from that. And so, I think there’s just many incidents that we’re just like moving through but not really understanding what’s happening to us. 

Ana: That’s right, yeah. 

Carmen: I feel like there’s a lot of common threads, but there are some differences depending on what kind of setting people are in, but I definitely would echo what Hadiyah was saying about the unknown. People are in childcare and in early childhood education because they’re passionate about that field and they love children, and, you know, the educators that we have worked so far to build something for themselves, for their family, for the people that they serve and the children they they’re with. And it’s really scary, I think, to have to deal with not knowing whether that’s going to come back after this. 

Hadiyah: Right. 

Carmen: Building a small business that’s not just your livelihood, which is really important, but it’s your livelihood and it’s your passion, it’s your baby. So, it’s like when this ends, is that going to come back at the same time that you have the unknown? You still have small children with you who you’re doing your best to serve, and you have your own family. So, I think that the grief is really there and not identifying that and making space for that is so important. 

Ana: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So many things that you mentioned are resonating for me in terms of what we know about toxic stress and trauma. So, for example, this idea of the unknown, and that is a shared experience for many folks. And it sounds exacerbated because of both this is a livelihood and because of the relationships that were built, especially with littles who you have. I mean, you are that buffering relationship for them and that was mutual in some way and there’s a loss in not knowing if that relationship can continue. 

So, one of the things that comes to mind is just, particularly in developmental psych, they talk about the difference between tolerable and toxic stress, right? So, like there’s the green zone and that’s the positive stress. You know, we’re hopefully one day going to be in the green with sunshine kissing our face and just feeling all good. There’s the yellow, which is the tolerable. And a lot of our day-to-day often is kind of sitting in the tolerable. And then there’s the toxic, there’s the red. And a lot of our brain functioning is limited when we’re in the red because we’re in survival mode, right? And you both spoke about that. And so, one of the things that they talk about is an addition to having a positive buffering relationship be the difference between the tolerable and toxic? Another is that there’s actually sort of an endpoint to the tolerable stress, right? So that’s what makes it tolerable is that you know that an end will come. 

When I go to the dentist and have to have this dental work done, and it just feels like I might lose my mind because when is this ever going to end? It does. And I know it will, right? At some point, this stressful meeting that I’m sitting in is going to end. It’s not going to continue throughout my days. What makes this so toxic for a lot of us is that we actually don’t know the end. We don’t know when the end will come. And that end may feel incredibly detrimental and as you said, threatening to our livelihood. 

And so one sort of trick for the mind, really, because at this moment we’re just trying to send some messages to the mind to trick it into thinking differently, might be to do what so many people talk about, especially in recovery, is just taking one day at a time. And in some cases, it’s one hour at a time, in some cases it’s one month at a time. And of course, that’s easier said than done, especially as you’re trying to make a budget for 2020-2021. Or if you are trying to decide if you’re even going to be able to keep your doors open. But for whatever it’s worth, I wonder if that idea of narrowing down the timestamp could be useful to people in order to make this a bit more tolerable rather than this like infinite, you know, when is this going to end? 

Carmen: I feel like both knowing that you only have to do one day at a time or one hour at a time is really useful, it could be really useful to a lot of people. And I think Hadiyah and I were talking last week about how important we feel it is also that people give themselves permission for that day or hour to look different than the days and hours that did before. 

Hadiyah: Yes. 

Carmen: And that they are different for you, they’re different for children, they’re different for your family. And knowing that the things that you might have been working on or doing with children, it’s going to look different now. And that the way that you need to center and focus on different things that children also have that. I don’t know if Hadiyah you want to chime in on- 

Hadiyah: Yeah. Well, I think it was that conversation, that thing I was thinking about like instead of looking at childcare as, you know, what we would typically call best practices. Right now, it’s about relationships. I just can’t imagine what it must be like. You know, you’ve been a teacher like usually when these kinds of crisis happen and you’re a teacher in a classroom that’s like a platform to kind of help children and families through the process, right? And I think for me some of that, sometimes that was even healing for myself. But right now, we don’t have that. 

You know, I can’t look at a four-year old who, you know, I just can’t even imagine what it must, how children are thinking about what’s happening. And the bind that parents and teachers are in and trying to explain this, while at the same time not trying to make children think that doom days is going to happen tomorrow, you know, and so, you know, that’s what I’m kind of like trying to, and I know I keep telling people, I keep thinking maybe you just kind of like, people are tired of hearing me say that. but that’s all I can say is I’m just trying to get through the day, you know, and I’m just trying to, you know, when I can, I’m just trying to say I can’t do anymore and let that be okay. But that’s really hard, right? Because I knew, I know our providers and the people that we work with were used to doing things and helping, and now not to know, you know? 

One of my friends is Leslie Barns and she runs a program and it was just like any program that I went to I was around children, right? But now it’s just like I don’t know, I don’t really know what 

to do next. That you know, the little projects that I get from work is really helping. I think Christine has also allowed us to, you know, remember when she started asking if we wanted to make phone calls, I knew I wasn’t ready to do that, right? But there was no pressure from her. She asked people who wanted to do that. But I do think it’s just really, I don’t know, it’s just, you know, and I’m used to bulking up and, you know, I’ve been a single mom so I could get through anything. This one is not working that well. So really just trying to say- 

Carmen: It’s different. 

Hadiyah: Yeah. It’s very different. When do I use humor? Because you know, I like to use humor at work and it’s just like is that appropriate now? You know what I mean? 

Ana: Right, is it okay to laugh sometimes? Yeah. 

Hadiyah: Yeah. And so, I think that, I think the people in our field, I think we’re kind of lost, you know? We’re already a workforce that was undervalued, you know what I mean? And now we have like, on one hand it’s like, yeah, we want to help children and families, but on the other hand, it feels like that load is being put on people who are already getting paid low wages, who are already working really, really hard. They didn’t have what they need. And now you’re saying, you know, come and help us. 

Ana: Do more. Yeah. 

Carmen: I think for us as an organization, we I think are pretty aware of how wild it is to think that in a time like this, with all of this shock and this toxic stress that people are being given things like, oh, here’s a solution from the state or the feds, all you have to do is fill out this application. We’re like, Yeah, like that is reassuring in some way to know that the money is there, but also filling out a complicated application at this time is all sorts of complicated and triggering. I mean, even as a native English speaker doing a form in English, it’s already very stressful, so imagining the breadth of our community, Yeah, so that’s part of why we’re really trying to be there for people and like reaching out consistently and thinking, brainstorming together, all the different kinds of resources we have. So that kind of like what can we take and help you hold up while you have to take a break to do this, these applications to- 

Hadiyah: Right. 

Carmen: to have money to stay alive and survive and keep your business going if you can. 

Ana: Yeah, yeah. I wonder if the if the power of peer support and some kind of allyship for those who have completed it, could they then somehow find meaning in supporting somebody else? Hadiyah anything that the program is doing right now or any kind of practices that you’re hearing from people or procedures that you think are really working at this moment, that we just want to celebrate and think about how to multiply? 

Hadiyah: I can’t remember that organization that Christine talked about that just started in Multnomah county. Do you remember the name of that? Carmen? 

Carmen: It’s That’s the business resource primarily, but there are also social emotional resources on there for childcare providers and children. 

Hadiyah: But they’re helping people, particularly around the finance pieces of that. And, you know, there’s just so much information coming out about the business loans and you know, but when you read the fine print, it kind of x’s a lot of people out of that. So, they’ve got this coalition together that is really working on helping people to kind of get through all of that information and really trying to answer those questions. And then they have, like Leslie Barns is one of them who’s really happy helping family childcare providers. So, it’s a place where they can call in, particularly around the business piece because she has that down really, really well. And so, she’s helping people. And that whole conversation we had about taking care of yourself, she’s, you know, because they don’t know when that money is going to come. 

I mean, they almost made people believe that you apply for this money and it was going to be there when your April payroll was going to be due. Well, that’s not going to happen, and we don’t know when that’s going to happen. But she is suggesting to people you need to still think about what’s going to happen in May and June. You know what I mean? And try to get them as from the business perspective, but also letting them know that you’ve got to take care of you and your family first and that’s okay. 

Carmen: Yeah. 

Hadiyah: Right, so that’s one of those boundaries. I think the field and the staff who are really helping with more kind of the day-to-day conversations with people, trying to figure out who’s doing emergent family childcare, who’s got spaces open, who needs supplies. So, we have that group going on. And then we have our networks who are working closely with the folks in those different language and racial communities who are connecting with their folks. 

Ana: And one thing that keeps showing up to be true is, you know, just going back to the principles of TIC as a way to ground any next move. You know, if it’s Zoom calls in order to really relay a sense of support, then how can we create Zoom calls with using transparency and both emotional and physical safety, right? So yes, on the one hand, video cameras are really lovely and seem to support connection. On the other hand, it may not be safe for people to show their physical environment for a number of different reasons, right? So, no judgment if your camera is off and explicitly saying that people can feel empowered to choose one way or another. Maybe they’re watching, maybe this is their only time to go outside and take a deep breath or sit on a bench, right? It doesn’t mean that they’re not engaged. It just means that they’re trying to maintain their emotional safety, right? 

Peer support and any form of mutuality and kind of collaboration, right? Anything that’s being created for the people, why not with the people? Right? At the very least, some level of 

our representation of we’ve asked a number of people about what they would like, here’s what we heard, and here’s how we’re putting it out. So, the six principles just seem like on the one hand, so, so basic. But at a time of crisis, basic is kind of what we need to fall to. Because really that’s the sustainable thing, right? The idea is not to create a whole other infrastructure now as a response to the incident, it’s actually to prolong the best practices that have been keeping us so strong for so long. And actually, merging with new ones so that when there isn’t a crisis, we’re actually that much stronger now and have developed certain habits at a time of crisis that are actually fine even when there isn’t one. 

So, I think the principles could be useful at a time like this. It sounds like a lot of collaboration is being done, which is, which is really, really wonderful. And just acknowledging people’s different level of need. As you mentioned, from basic to the grief, certain layers of grief. And that there is, as long as we can give it a voice and give it a sense of belonging and witnessing, it might be able to be digested in a way that doesn’t have further consequences. And in a sense, in that way, we’re doing some prevention work for what’s coming next. Because there will be a time after this, and we want people to be integrated, not leave pieces of them behind and continue to feel a sense of trust and being held. Anything that we didn’t touch on that you think is important for people to know or hear? Any other unique, I mean, it sounds like the amount of information that’s out there and the information that’s changing and the procedures that are a bit of a maddening barrier. 

Hadiyah: Yeah. 

Ana: So, the more clarity that people can put out, the better. 

Carmen: I think it’s important for people to know that truly we can explain what’s happening or what we know of what’s happening as many times as they want us to. 

Hadiyah: Right. 

Carmen: There’s so much information coming in all the time and it does change. And even among our staff, you know, where we’re calling each other or texting or emailing and being like, hey, wait, what was the decision about this? Like, let me know how this goes. Do you have that document about this one policy? I need to reread that. So, if people are feeling like there’s an information overload, we’re here to support that and we get it. We know that we might have just emailed something yesterday and you might have no idea that you already read it because there’s just so much that it is not realistic to think that we’re going to get anything on that first try. 

Hadiyah: And I like the idea of thinking the information you gave us about do these Zoom things and giving people permission not to have to be sitting in front of a computer or cell phone to do meetings and stuff. But I’m also really trying to figure out, I mean, I know that organizations have some information about social, emotional, but I’m really feeling like I really want to hear more from providers about what’s happening with children and their families, 

right? Because which in essence is about themselves as well. But just how do we support that kind of ongoing? Because I think right now people just trying to figure out that the lowering of the Maslow, they’re just trying to figure that out. But how do we help people to kind of deal with some of those emotions and feelings around what’s happening? And so, I think that would be one thing if you know, if you’re listening to this and you have questions or things, we can setup some way of being able to respond to that. I don’t know if that’s individually or every Thursday at three o’clock or whatever, one of us will be online, people can come in. 

It was just interesting to me the whole idea of social distancing. I mean, I keep figuring out how do you do that with young children, right? Because everything we teach them, everything that they know is to connect with other human beings, right? So how do we, there was a video yesterday, but we didn’t, we were on another call, but they’re going to send a webinar about social distancing and early childhood. I mean, how does that happen? But I just really feel like I really want to kind of uplift the social emotional piece about this and just remind people that the things that we’ve been talking about today, you know, there’s going to be grief, there’s the unknown. That whole thing about flexible boundaries, all those things that we’re talking about. How do we keep giving them that message?


Here are two helpful resources:

Positive/Tolerable/Toxic Stress

Principles of TIC