Beth Bye (left), commissioner of the state Office of Early Childhood, and child care provider Cureene Blake of Aalia and Ricardo Family Childcare talk after the announcement of Connecticut's Staffed Family Child Care Network, a program that aims to support at-home child care providers across Connecticut. Ayannah Brown / Connecticut Public

Cureene Blake, an at-home child care provider who works in Hartford, says she once felt pigeonholed in interacting only with families she worked with.

Now, standing outside an at-home child care center in the South Meadows section of Hartford, Blake says she feels comforted by professional connections established by the state for providers like her.

“We are not babysitters — we don’t sit on babies — we are early childhood educators,” Blake said Monday during an outdoor news conference in Hartford.

“We are the people who work with mothers and fathers, aunts and grandmothers to empower them and to assure them that they are their children’s first teacher.”

About 400 licensed home day care providers are expected to be supported by the city of Hartford after its selection as one of six regional hubs across Connecticut’s network of at-home child care providers. The effort comes as the child care industry struggles through challenges such as staffing shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The capital region’s network, administered through the city of Hartford’s Department of Family, Children, Youth and Recreation, will include providers from 26 towns. Before this, individual municipalities each offered their own support services for at-home child care providers. The city says the network will offer training, professional development and business practices support.

Beth Bye, commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, said Monday that a network that first went statewide during the pandemic is being expanded after state officials found that at-home child care networks improved quality of care.

“We have decided to make it part of our permanent plan for child care in the state because we know that, to reach families in child care deserts, to help with issues like transportation and access to child care, that family child care is a big part of that solution,” Bye said.

Aside from supporting licensed at-home child care providers, Hartford officials say, the city’s appointment as regional hub will allow it to recruit prospective at-home child care providers and meet the need for more day care slots.

This story was originally published Dec. 19, 2022, by Connecticut Public.