More Childhood Programs Coming to Leelanau County in 2021

A voter-approved millage will be in full force in 2021, to bring Early Childhood Development programs to all families in Leelanau County. Great Start 2

Leaders say big things are on the horizon for 2021. Programming started slowly in 2020, but it will be the first full year for a new slate of programming options for the parents of young children.  It’s all aimed at helping kids before they’re old enough to start school.

Mary Manner is the Coordinator of the Great Start Collaborative. She says, “The millage is just really kicking in for Early Childhood, and we’re really excited.”  Just over a month away from the new year – and 2021 will mean a variety of Early Childhood Development programs available to all families in Leelanau County.

“The millage is targeted for actually prenatal, but mainly birth to age 5, so before kids are in school. The millage supports health and well-being of young children in their homes,” Manner says. “This millage allows us to work with the Health Department to create lots of opportunities for families to get good information about child development and parenting skills, and for there to be regular high quality opportunities for families.”

While Leelanau County has about 1,000 children under age six, only a few dozen each year have been served by early childhood programs in the past. That’s why educators and community leaders advocated for growing the programs, pointing out that 90% of brain development happens by age five. Manner says, “Yes, we were doing some of it. But we weren’t able to reach all families. And that’s what this millage allows. This millage allows for every family in Leelanau County to have access to high quality early childhood services and supports. The reality is we couldn’t do enough. So a lot of people were going without access to services.”

Manner says the programs also recognize a key struggle for many families, saying there will be “regular high-quality opportunities for families to come together, to be able to have socialization opportunities, playgroups. That’s one of the things we know is the biggest – one of the biggest stressors on families is just the isolation of raising young children.”

It won’t just be in homes or school buildings – programs will reach locations where families like to be: like playgrounds, parks and libraries.  In 2021 the county health department will coordinate more programs, home visits, education, and socialization for young children and their families. “It’s going to allow for home visiting for all families, it’s going to provide for more intensive services that families might need in terms of being referred to the right programs and specialists if their children have delays or disabilities.” Great Start Daycare Day Care 2

State Representative Jack O’Malley represents the 101st State House District, which includes Leelanau County. “When I was a kid, you know, one parent pretty much stayed home. Well now you’ve got both parents working. And so there’s a renewed effort to say, hey, we’ve got to have our children, help them out a little bit getting them ready for those school years ahead.” O’Malley says he sees the value in Early Childhood programs. “It’s very important. we’ve got to have our children ready because they hit the ground running when they go to school. And the old, ‘kindergarten gets them ready?’ That’s probably not the case anymore.”

O’Malley also says the discussion should include options for daycare. “Early childhood in many ways is vastly important. One of the things I’m working on is daycare legislation. Because where we put our children is so very important now because with working families and things, it’s not like it was 50 years ago.”

O’Malley plans to reintroduce daycare legislation early next year.