WNY has been at the forefront of child care and learning initiatives in our community for more than a century. As far back as 1881, Maria M. Love, a prominent Buffalonian and social services advocate, established the Fitch Crèche. This program was nationally recognized as the first child care center in the United States, providing child care, medical care, and early education for young children of poor, working women. Even then, in an era where little was known about child development, local advocates established programs and services that improved the lives of children and families in our community.
Throughout the 20th century, the need for child care and programs that supported children and families continued to grow. Increased numbers of women participating in the workforce, changing family structures, research on brain development and the importance of early learning experiences, and economic development furthered the need for access to high quality and affordable child care all over the country, including the WNY area. Legislation to support children and families also increased in this time period. Programs such as Head Start were created, and creation of child care regulations and financial assistance supports for working families were instituted
The 1980’s brought transformative change to the systems that support children and families. Leading the way in NYS was a group of dedicated volunteers in Erie County who came together to look at the child care needs in our local community. These individuals represented a broad spectrum of the human service system as well as the local legal, educational, political and business communities. In 1987, with support from the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, the Wendt Foundation, and the YWCA, the Child Care Coalition of the Niagara Frontier, Inc. was born. The first focus of the new agency was helping families find affordable, high quality child care programs for their children. In 1989, the agency received their first state contract and became the only agency in Erie County to provide child care resource and referral services to families and child care providers in the area.
The “Coalition”, as the agency was fondly referred to, did not stop there. Over the coming years, many programs and services were added to support the agency’s mission of developing and advocating for high quality, affordable and accessible child care. In 1995, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which provides reimbursement for healthy meals served to children in child care programs, was subcontracted to the Coalition. In the first year alone, participation in this program doubled. In 1996, a Mobile Lending Toy Library provided play and assistive technology equipment to young children with special needs. In 2002, the Coalition was one of seven lead agencies in NYS awarded a contract to provide regional infant-toddler quality improvement activities to families and child care providers throughout WNY. In 2006, the agency assumed the contract and responsibilities for enrolling legally exempt child care providers in Erie County and in 2009 was granted the state contact for the regulatory oversight of family and school-age child care programs in Erie County. In between, the “Coalition” held additional contracts with Erie County Department of Social Services and local foundations to improve the quality of child care and learning opportunities for children in partnership with other organizations. Our partnerships included initiatives like Success by 6 with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County to most recently helping women who are refugees open home-based child care programs with Journey’s End Refugee Services and Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County. The “Coalition” always grew as a result of the changing needs of our community, and always under the leadership of pioneers, who led the charge on behalf of children and families. Our impressive list of Executive Directors include: Dorothy B. Millard, Judy DiPasquale, Peg Agnello-Kulu, Mary Jo Hunt, Dr. Valerie C. Cooley, Susan Block, Marie Cannon, Lynn Pullano, and our current CEO, Amanda Kelkenberg.
Today, while the name of the organization has changed to Child Care Resource Network, the commitment to our community is the same. We are here to ensure the best outcomes for all children and families though our programs, services, collaborations and commitments. Our most recent program addition, Help Me Grow WNY, is a testimony to that commitment that started back in 1881. Help Me Grow WNY, a community-wide project designed to identify and connect at-risk children to the services they need, is funded by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York and includes many community partners. Our agency is honored to be a part of the best human service programs and collaborations that make this community a great place to live, work, and raise a family!