LIHUE — Mary Lu Kelley believes keiki should have the best start in life.
“It’s important for our children that they have a solid base,” she said.
That’s where PATCH comes in.
From guiding residents through the process of becoming family childcare providers to offering childcare training courses for providers and parents alike, PATCH, or People Attentive to Children, has worked to make sure keiki are receiving the best child care available.
The statewide nonprofit was initiated on June 29, 1976 in Honolulu as a way to address the city’s need for childcare, which was due to a high cost of living, coupled low wages. Now its mission is to support and improve the quality and availability of care for the young people of Hawaii by connecting families with family childcare providers.
A family childcare provider is different from a babysitter, Kelley said.
“We never call them sitters,” she said. “PATCH only refers to licensed childcare providers, who take care of children in their home.”
In order to be licensed by the Hawaii State Department of Human Services, prospective providers must pass a background check and a home inspection.
An PATCH employee will guide the applicant through the paperwork as well as conduct a home inspection, prior to DHS, Kelley said.
“They make sure it’s clean and safe,” she said. “They also measure the home, and based on the space, they tell them how many children can be in the home.”
One house can take care of five or six children, including two babies under 18 months, Kelley said.
PATCH Kauai also recruits more childcare providers by going to community events and advertising in their newsletter.
There are 40 family childcare providers on Kauai, from Haena to Kekaha. But Lihue and Kapaa are in need of more services, Kelley said.
There are 11 family childcare providers in Lihue and Kapaa. She hopes to get at least 15 in both areas.
“That would add places for 10 babies. That’s how we think of it — places where we can add babies,” she said. “I have some families who work in Lihue and are willing to drive to Kalaheo for childcare. But when places get full, and you have a child, you do what you have to do.”
The organization, which is funded by the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, also serves as a resource for childcare providers by providing scholarships for people taking early childhood education classes and reimbursing the caretakers for providing the children with healthy and nutritious meals.
Recently, Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. issued a proclamation, recognizing PATCH’s work on Kauai.
“It made us all very proud of the work we’ve been doing,” Kelley said.
Thursday will be the start of 10-day training course called “The Basics of Family Childcare.”
“It’s a wonderful class because people who want to become childcare providers can come and learn everything they need to know,” she said.
The free training program will teach participants about the business, how to provide quality care, how to recognize the signs of learning disabilities and the importance of sign language.