Ginger Knisley wears lots of metaphoric hats in her life. Most of them are related to the safety and well-being of children.
Knisley is the director for Children First, which is the local Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) board for Lee and Van Buren counties. She has been in that position since 2009, she told the Fort Madison Kiwanis Club Monday.
“We fund programs for children prenatal through 5 years old and their families,” she said. “And that can look a lot of different ways because we were created in Iowa code in 1998 with the belief that local communities knew better what was needed for young families in their area than the state knew.”
Knisley said Children First is tasked with doing community assessments and planning and are required to fund programs according to that local need.
Currently in Lee County, Knisley said, Children First funds HOPES (Healthy Opportunities for Parents to Experience Success) program, which is an intensive in-home visiting program for young families to learn about parenting and about what resources are available in their community.
Also funded is a child care nurse consultant focused on all things health and safety for early childhood sites, preschools and childcare centers.
“We have funding available for early childhood sites, for everything from spring gardening supplies to nap cots to training for their staff,” she said. “Whatever it looks like from one to the next. And we fund those programs regardless of their tax exempt status. So we fund for profit and nonprofit sites equally.”
Knisley said there are very few mental health resources for young children in the area. She said it was a big deal that recently, four ECIs covering 10 counties created an early childhood positive behavioral intervention and support program.
Child Abuse Prevention Council
Another hat that Knisley wears is with the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Lee County, which is an entirely volunteer group.
“We just work to provide funding for things that make Lee County a safer place for children,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of restrictions on what we do.
Knisley said one of the CAPC’s programs is for young parents, where they can come in weekly for education and information about parenting and earn points they can use to purchase diapers and wipes and other items.
There is also a reserve fund for victims of domestic violence.
The group also has funds in reserve from Boy’s Town for Common Sense Parenting.
“We haven’t managed to launch (that) yet. We got that money late in 2019 and then we know what happened to the world,” she said. “So that’s still sitting in the bank waiting to be used.”
Two years ago, Knisley said, CAPC started to receive direct deposits “mysteriously” from a United Way in Arizona.
“Completely anonymous,” she said. “We discussed for a while what we should do with the money. We inquired and there was no stipulation on it, just ‘do what you will’ with it.”
The group decided to earmark that money for car seats.
“So we have a very generous fund to provide car seats and car seat education to families in Lee County, which is really big,” she said. “Until two years ago, there was no steady, dependable funding source for car seats in our area. So I am very appreciative to have that money readily available.”
Child Passenger Safety Program
Knisley (wearing another hat) is also a car seat technician. The Child Passenger Safety Program is a loosely organized group of six or so volunteers.
“We are individual people that recognized that there was a need for education and resources around car seats,” she said.
Recently, Knisley said, that group was able to help a family that had a recent car accident.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends replacing child car seats after accidents.
“Well, about the cheapest seat at Wal-Mart right now is $100,” Knisley said. “And that’s a real burden on a lot of families in Lee County.”
Knisley said while it is a need, “we don’t have people knocking our door down.”
“Driving around in this community,” she said, “you do see a lot of children standing on seats. They’re not even seatbelted, much less in a car seat. It is a need, but we struggle to get families to participate. People don’t tend to put a lot of emphasis on it.”
Iowa is “notoriously lax,” Knisley said, with child passenger safety laws.
“They’re at about 50% of what we would consider best practice. Best practice is to keep a child rear-facing until they’re 2 years old. In Iowa law, it’s 1 year old,” she said. “And then it gets very, very loose the older a child gets.”
In Iowa, law enforcement officials may stop drivers if they are observed not wearing a seat belt.