Extension babysitting training fulfills a need in Oregon's child care 'deserts'

HOOD RIVER, Ore. – The question came back in early January, on Dani Annala’s first day back as the Oregon State University Extension 4-H outreach program coordinator in Hood River County.

“When are you going to bring back babysitting training?”

Annala put on babysitting workshops three to four times a year when she was the 4-H program coordinator in Hood River County from December 2010 to July 2015. Quality child care in the county remained in short supply, and Hood River wasn’t alone. A 2019 report from Oregon State University found that child care “deserts” existed in all 36 of the state’s counties.

Annala set up babysitting workshops for March, May and June. Held over three days, they are designed to train youth in baby care, toddler care, safety, first aid, healthy snacks, and age-appropriate games.

She was forced to redesign the classes to a virtual format when OSU Extension suspended in-person programming to help limit the spread of COVID-19. She held workshops in July and August, and she co-hosted a workshop in August with neighboring Wasco County.

“Across Oregon, there has been a long-standing lack of child care availability,” Annala said. “This inadequacy was magnified by the pandemic when many families found themselves without child care for the first time.”

Nearly all of the 38 participants were teens who have been asked to babysit their younger relatives while their parents work from home. About 16% of the participants were from underrepresented communities.

“So many parents lost child care at the beginning of the pandemic, and many youths are asked unexpectedly to care for younger siblings, neighbor children and extended family,” Annala said.

The workshops total five hours and are designed for a beginning babysitter in the 12- to 14-year-old age range. They are given an evaluation at the end of the training and receive a certificate of completion.

“Their number one responsibility is to keep the children safe,” Annala said. “They learn to recognize, remove and limit safety issues throughout play, cooking, and other activities. Our other focus is entertaining in positive ways. Younger kids are excited when older kids can give them games to play. We teach them age-appropriate activities.”

Annala has shared her curriculum with colleagues throughout the state. Sandra Carlson, 4-H program coordinator in Clatsop County, opened registration for a statewide virtual workshop for 10-year-olds and up later this month and it has already drawn nearly 60 registrants. Because the classes are typically limited to about a dozen participants at a time, a second workshop has been added for October to accommodate the “amazing response,’ Carlson said.

Down on the south Oregon coast, Margie House, 4-H outreach coordinator and Family and Community Health educator in Curry County, has over the last five years has been working with community partners to address the need for child care in her county.

Earlier this year prior to the pandemic, House initiated a six-part, 15-hour course for teens in partnership with an afterschool program in Gold Beach with the Curry Public Library. With funding from the South Coast Regional Early Learning Hub, 15 teens graduated from this babysitter certification course, which included first aid and CPR certification.

House’s training includes a lesson on careers in early childhood education and care. She also conducted the course in Brookings, reaching another 20 teens.

“The students walked away with not only knowledge, but a full backpack filled with supplies to bring along with them on their babysitting ventures,” House said.

Starting next month, House will assist with a statewide virtual program delivery of Annala’s curriculum. She’s planning to adapt her six-part course to a hybrid model of in-person and virtual for the coming 4-H year, and expanding it to the entire county.

“Curry County is one of Oregon’s child care deserts, and the pandemic has brought this issue to the forefront,” she said. “I’m encouraged by the progress and importance being placed on this issue.”

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