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Penquis becoming part of your family

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Child Development Services for all families

BANGOR Women today really want to have it all: a career, a family, a social life. But it can be difficult if not downright impossible to find that perfect balance. Many moms struggle with the guilt associated with placing their children in day care, and finding a place that can not only help assuage the guilt but make the parents feel like they're making a healthy decision is key.

Penquis has several Child Development Service centers in Bangor that are open to families of all incomes and offers quality child care to area families.

'We are a developmental center that serves infants (six weeks) up to children who are 5 years old,' said Jean-Ann Lauritsen, the division manager. 'We serve income-eligible families, but we will serve any family essentially.'

daycare2Lauritsen said that many people don't think of Penquis as an option for day care, but wanted to stress that they are open to all families.

But the decision to bring children to day care is difficult.

'I was miserable. I came in to look at the facility and just cried thinking about it,' said Julie Helwig, a parent who uses the Developmental Centers. 'There's support for everybody in the transition process. They [the staff] understand that it's not just new for the child, but new for the parent as well. They ease that guilt and let you know that it's an open door policy.'

Each parent and child deal with separation differently, something they understand at Penquis, and they will adapt their morning routines to help new comers feel welcome and ease that transition.

'Mine thrived on having a song, and they would all start singing. That's what got her in there,' said Helwig. 'She loves getting one-on-one with Julie, her teacher. She needs someone to give her a personal welcome, and no matter what they need that's what they [the staff] will do. They'll ask, Are you OK? Do you need a hug? Do you need a tissue?' and [give] constant reassurance. I looked at a lot of places. I've only gotten [this level of treatment] there.'

Helwig explained it went beyond just the understanding of the difficulties in dropping the children off. It was also about being kept in the loop. The teachers and caregivers keep meticulous records of children's activities everything from what they played, learned and ate (and how much) to reporting if there are any bumps.

'Anything even the smallest thing that happens that you think you'd want to know about they call you,' said Helwig. She recalled one time her daughter took a tumble. 'We got a call right away. We were told how long she cried for, what she asked for and what the plan was for the rest of the day to monitor her.'

Communication is key and extends beyond when a head is bonked. Teachers and staff are involved in communicating what's going on to parents in many ways.

daycare3'We take pictures, they get notes in the cubbies,' said Julie Pace, a teacher in the preschool room. 'There's a form it's different from one class to the other - it tells you when they slept, how much they ate, did they eat all of it, some of it and why. When you go to pick them up, you get to talk to someone.'

And the activities are very child-centric.

'We are child-driven and absolutely want to go off what the child wants to do. We individualize what we do for drop-offs and curriculum education,' said Pace. 'Everything is individualized around each child and who they are and where they are at [developmentally].'

These activities include gross and fine motor skill development, and though the classrooms are structured, they're also flexible to allow for impromptu learning opportunities.

'If we saw a grasshopper outside, we become immersed in grasshoppers and learn about them. Every day is so different here,' said Pace.

'You're not a number, you're a family that matters,' added Kara Hay, the operations manager of Penquis Child Development.

The Development Centers have more ways to help parents stay connected.

'Each Center will have parent group meetings, different trainings for different families. Parents fill out a parent topic list and [the center] gets speakers from the choices they made that they [the parents] want to learn about,' said Lauritsen. 'Folks have the opportunity to learn about how the organization functions and be a part of working with the director and operations manager to take a look at the budget and how we do things for our programming. They learn how we are able to run our classrooms and run our centers from the ground up.'

At one point, due to cuts, Helwig's daughter wasn't able to receive care.

'When I found out the classroom was closing, I did nothing for a month. They provide a list, so you had somewhere to go. I called everywhere. There was one place, I walked in and out again sobbing I couldn't believe anyone would drop their child off there,' she said. 'I was panicked. I wasn't putting her anywhere, but then I got the phone call that they had gone down the list and she was next. We got a slot and I was crying. It was wonderful.'

Pace noted that staff members flipped a coin to see who got to make the phone call.

daycare3The Development center is full-service, meaning in addition to the classroom play and learning, they offer meals, health and dental services if families are not already connected with such services, as well as offering support as they become self-sufficient.

'Some folks have not had the opportunity to establish care with either a doctor or a dentist. Our family support workers and teachers help them through the process of connecting [with service providers] in the area,' said Lauritsen. 'We're promoting positive interaction with dentists or doctors for the whole family. Once that's established the greater the chances the services will continue [once the children enter public school].'

They serve nutritious balanced meals which the children serve to each other family style ('please pass the such-and-such, thank you!'). Sometimes they are involved in the prepping and cooking of the meals.

The Development Center also screens children for the basics of hearing, sight and speech and are able to alert parents if they feel something is amiss.

'When referrals are made, we sit down with families on a one-to-one basis. We want the families to feels as comfortable as we can and [know that] we'll be there every step of the way,' said Pace.

All the support before the children enter school makes the transition into a structured learning environment that much easier.

'When they transition to schools, the schools love it. They're doing so well in their group especially considering how many kids are from challenging backgrounds,' said Hay.

There are Child Development Centers on the Davis Road, in the Penobscot Job Corps facility and Venture Way, Eastern Maine Community College. For more information or to fill out an application, visit www.Penquis.org or call 973-3567.

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