TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner met with members of the Cherokee Nation Early Childhood task Team to discuss early childcare initiatives in order to help fill some of the gaps in childcare the reservation was needing.
Included in the list of initiatives they discussed, a 35 percent increase for childcare workers within the tribe and the creation of Flexible Spending Accounts to help with childcare expenses within the tribe were among the topics.
Hoskin created the Early Childhood Task Force in March of 2022 to identify areas of opportunity and need regarding early childcare within the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
The task force was assembled as part of the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education act created by Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner in 2021. It invests up to $40 million to replace or rehabilitate all of the tribe’s Head Start centers.
“Whether you need childcare directly, someone in your family needs childcare, someone in your community needs it, or maybe you will need childcare at some point in the future, it’s an issue that impacts all of us,” Hoskin said. “We want young Cherokees to have great opportunities in childcare, which is an important part of their development. We want to make sure these services are available directly through the Cherokee Nation with places like our Child Development Centers, or the private partners we work with in a variety of capacities. We want the best for the Cherokee people, and childcare is an area where we can make a positive impact. One critical component of the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act included a comprehensive review of all early childhood educational services in the reservation for Cherokee citizens. The task force has met, they have thoroughly reviewed those services throughout the reservation, and we have a number of new initiatives that we believe are going to make generational impacts for our citizens and allow us to seize the opportunity to close any gaps that might exist while building on our successes.”
Hoskin and Warner said Cherokee Nation’s early childcare workforce will receive a pay increase of 35 percent in response to the task force’s comprehensive review and Cherokee Nation has already surpassed the national salary average for childcare professionals.
The tribe is also planning to provide bonuses when hiring for early childcare positions, and provide increased educational opportunities for the early childcare workforce through Cherokee Nation Career Services.
“Families are always looking for a good place where they can provide their children with important life skills at an early age. We know each community has different, individual needs, so taking a strategic approach is critical to being successful,” Warner said. “That’s why I appreciate the portfolio of initiatives that have resulted from the meetings of this task force.”
The Cherokee Nation said they will also be contributing $2,000 per child toward the FSA to be used for childcare needs. This would allow employees to save funds pre-tax, reducing overall childcare costs.
The tribe will partner with Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) to build a new childcare facility on CNB’s Hard Rock property in Catoosa to bring reliable, affordable childcare to employees in the area.
“Identifying communities that lack enough childcare and then taking swift action shows what we can do when we listen and work together,” Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Keith Austin said. “A new childcare center on our CNB corporate campus in Catoosa will serve the whole community and is just one of the many opportunities we have to increase childcare services across the reservation.”
Hoskin and Warner said the tribe will contribute an additional $5 million to the important work of local Boys & Girls Clubs, which provide after-school programs.
For more information about the Early Childhood Task Force reports, click here.
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