Here in the Northeast Kingdom, many young children are experiencing the profound impact of two crises: the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused many children to enter child care and preschool programs with unusually limited socialization experiences; and the increased rate of substance misuse in our communities, along with a related increase in violent crime. The rise in substance misuse has impacted parents’ ability to be present for their children, whether they’re experiencing the issue in their personal lives or in the broader community.
Anna Maguire, Children Integrated Services (CIS) coordinator for Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), reached out to area child care providers last year to find out what their greatest needs were in this challenging environment.
“Providers at some of our local centers told me that they were seeing a lot of staff turnover following Covid, and that they were also seeing a lot of challenging behaviors among children,” Maguire said. “They were looking for a different type of training that would help address both of these challenges.”
A common theme that emerged in these conversations was the need for training in trauma-responsive care. Many of the program directors were experienced longtime early childhood providers, but many of their staff were new hires. Expertise that had been built up over years of training had been lost during the period of turnover.
Maguire took the lead on designing a project to provide trauma-responsive training in the Northeast Kingdom. She applied for and received a 2023 Vermont Early Childhood Fund (VECF) grant from Building Bright Futures (BBF) to fund the project. Throughout the year, NEKCA will work with Kaitlin Zura, M.A., of Northeastern Family Institute, VT (NFI VT), a licensed psychologist and rostered Child Parent Psychotherapy clinician with expertise in trauma, to provide free trainings and consultations to early childhood educators and care providers on ways to support young children and families who have experienced trauma and toxic stress.
The project aligns with this year’s priorities for the Newport and St. Johnsbury Regional Councils, a prerequisite for VECF funding that ensures that projects meet the needs of the local communities being served. Both the Caledonia and Southern Essex Regional Council, which includes St. Johnsbury, and the Orleans and Northern Essex Regional Council, which includes Newport, are focused on “Building resilience in children, families, and communities.” St. Johnsbury also has “Early childhood workforce development” as one of its two priorities, while Newport has “Family safety and mental health.” This project resonates with all three of these priority areas and with the needs of the Northeast Kingdom’s children, families, and professionals.
The trainings will be offered in both St. Johnsbury and Newport and will begin with three in-depth sessions on trauma-informed practice. Over 70 providers have signed up. “The trainings are being offered both in-person and online,” Maguire said. “What we have found is that our community has changed a lot with Covid, and one of the things that has changed is people’s comfort with doing things online. When people have the choice, most people are choosing to participate online. Our goal is to create a training that reaches the most providers possible in a format that encourages the highest level of participation.”
The first set of trainings will be followed by a series of opportunities for reflective conversations during one-on-one consultation hours with the trainer. “As questions come up, providers will have the chance to ask questions directly of the trainer and talk about how the things they learned apply to the workplace,” Maguire said.
In May, child care supervisors will have the opportunity to participate in a leadership training and check-in. “We wanted to provide some reflective supervision for the supervisors and also give them the opportunity to help plan and create the next training series,” Maguire said. In August, NEKCA and NFI VT will present another two- or three-part training series that the providers themselves helped to design and create.
“I’m new to the area,” Maguire said. “This is my first time working with BBF. There’s been a lot of support from Linda. It’s been good to get immediate feedback as you’re going through the process. Linda has been great in helping me problem-solve. Overall, what we’re trying to do is key into and really listen to what is being asked for by the early childhood providers in our community, and then meet that need as best we can.”
—Linda Michniewicz, Regional Manager, Lamoille Valley, Caledonia/Southern Essex and Orleans/Northern Essex
Linda Michniewicz has been with BBF for four years. Her experience in early childhood in the Northeast Kingdom spans decades, starting with a Head Start internship during her senior year at Lyndon State in 1978. After graduation, she worked with Northeast Kingdom Head Start and Early Head Start in multiple roles, culminating as the director of the program. She served as the early childhood program coordinator for the Caledonia North Supervisory Union, then joined BBF in 2019. Linda serves on the boards of directors of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services, the Lake Region Union High School, and local elementary and middle school boards. Her collaborative approach and her connections to local, regional, and statewide early childhood professionals and policymakers are an invaluable resource to the BBF Network.