For parents seeking to secure a job that leads to financial security, there’s an essential element in their success – reliable child care. All parents want the best, highest-quality care for their children, but when work hours fall outside the traditional hours of most child care providers, employment can quickly go from a promising opportunity to an economic and logistical impossibility.
The Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, understands this issue all too well. In 1969, Chambliss was the first center in the state to meet the child care needs of families – primarily single mothers who don’t work traditional 9-5 jobs – by offering affordable, high-quality learning environments, nutritious meals, school transportation and care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for children ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years.
“I haven’t seen another program like this anywhere,” said Nikki Brown, mother of two children in the program. “Chambliss is truly heaven-sent.”
As a three-star Tennessee Star-Quality Child Care program, the highest rating the state can give, Chambliss serves more than 570 children across their six sites in Chattanooga, where almost 90 percent of their families are at or below the poverty level, and 80 percent are single parents.
Preserving family is at the core of Chambliss’ purpose. Their mission statement begins with “to preserve family unity.”
Gloria Miller, vice president at Chambliss, explained, “By helping families work whatever hours they need, we’re helping to keep that family intact and provide stability.”
After finishing school to become a dental assistant, Nikki Brown – whose children Kingston and Kristian were ages 3 and 2 at the time – moved to Chattanooga looking for employment. When she first arrived, she accepted a job at a grocery store and was fortunate to enroll her children in Chambliss, so she could start working the odd hours it required.
"I could tell the teachers cared about their life skills. My children were learning and building social skills, and the teachers helped fill in the gaps for me,” said Brown. “You can tell it’s not just a job for them. Chambliss became a second family for me."
At Chambliss, a typical schedule depends on the age of the child and what time they’re dropped off, and Chambliss uses the Creative Curriculum, providing a reading center, designated play times and summer activities like swimming, dance and tennis. There are 75 full- and part-time staff members, and Chambliss requires 24 hours of professional development a year: six more hours than are required by state standards.
Victoria Goodloe, parent to Anaya, 10 and Merci, 5, said that she has benefited from the feasibility of cost and hours, as she completed her college education and now works full time, and her children have been well prepared for academic success.
“Chambliss gives children a sense of independence, and they are prepared for their academic participation,” she said. “When Merci comes home, she tells me what she learned that day, what songs they sang, what book they read, what games they played. As a parent, I have a world of peace about my children being in Chambliss. I know they are in good hands.”
The cost of child care at Chambliss begins at $200 to $250 per week for nursery care, and costs decline as children get older. However, Chambliss has structured their fees on a sliding scale based on the parent’s ability to pay – which usually amounts to $60 to $160 per child per week, or 20-25 percent of the actual cost of care. The remaining costs are provided through grants, contributions, the United Way, state subsidies and revenue generated by their thrift store.
"Coming into a career at the entry level, I didn't make a lot. Chambliss made care affordable,” said Brown.
Understanding the complex network of support needed by low-income children and families drives the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s work to connect early childhood education systems, including child care and health care centers, home-based child care; K-12 schools; local, state, tribal and federal governments; and businesses.
With a $255,000 grant from WKKF, Chambliss plans to gather information from parents to identify what other gaps exist that may prevent children from reaching their full potential, like transportation, housing, food and safety, and then connect parents with the resources they need. In identifying these barriers, Chambliss hopes to maximize parental involvement on a daily basis, and for all parents to take a more active role in their child’s life.
Even beyond providing their formalized programs, Chambliss works informally to meet the needs of their children and families. Even meeting seemingly small needs in families has had a tangible impact on parents and is critical to cultivating trust and authentic relationships with them.
“We do all we can to help our families. For example, we had a local private school call us before Christmas, explaining that they wanted to provide a toy for every child in the program,” Miller said. “They came and set up everything by age. Then, parents could pick out a gift for their child.”
Brown was one of the parents who benefited from this extra support from Chambliss. She said, "The last two Christmases, I couldn’t provide for my children. I was working to just pay my bills, and Chambliss provided the gifts for my children.”
Now, she has a better, higher-paying job. She sits on the parent board at Chambliss that makes recommendations about meals, curriculum and hands-on activities for the children. And now that her children are in elementary school, they go to Chambliss before and after school, relieving the obstacle she would have faced in getting them to and from school while still holding her job.
As a recipient of the many ways Chambliss helps families, she’s now in a position to give back. “I have been blessed with a new job and my head is above water, so now we want to help another family and provide Christmas gifts for them."