Crisis nursery faces closure

Claude Thrailkill, 3, listens intently to Sara Griggs read a story at Harbor Haven.  - Susan Mador
Claude Thrailkill, 3, listens intently to Sara Griggs read a story at Harbor Haven.
— image credit: Susan Mador

In seven days, an important North Whidbey resource may start turning away families who need urgent child care.

A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant that funds Harbor Haven Crisis and Respite Nursery runs out at the end of April. That means no more free childcare in times of emergency or family stress.

Once the Gates money is gone, the day care and respite nursery sponsored by Child Abuse Prevention Foundation may have to close. That possibility has many people worried.

“The Gates grant is our major source of funding but it isn’t our only source,” said Robin Hertlein, director of CAPF. “We’re exploring many other grants, but so far we haven’t heard of anything being approved.

“We have a three-year grant pending with the state but that’s all tied up with the budget crisis,” she added. “We’re not sure if funds will come through at all. We’re calling on the community to help.”

The $5,000-a-month Gates grant supplies salaries for the state-licensed center.

“We really need local support to keep going,” Hertlein said. “We serve a variety of families on North Whidbey,” she added. “Last month, several families making emergency room visits left their other children here. Other parents may be going through counseling or be out of work and can’t afford child care while interviewing or training for other jobs.”

Lately, Hertlein said Harbor Haven has been helping many military families. “So many people are deployed now,” she said. “And some spouses are feeling overwhelmed.” In the past few months, Harbor Haven enrollment has included an estimated 60 percent children from military families and 40 percent from children from non-military families.

“It takes a lot for a family to say they need help,” Program Manager Kate Dohr said.

New arrivals find assistance

Nickie and Vince Thrailkill recently arrived on Whidbey Island from Rota, Spain. “I couldn’t go to a doctor’s appointment with my children,” Nickie Thrailkill said. “Olivia (5) is in preschool but I needed a place for Claude (3). Harbor Haven gave me a good break.”

Thrailkill has found that child care providers have waiting lists. Many require scheduling, and paying, a month in advance.

“Moving is stressful,” Thrailkill said. “My husband will leave on deployment soon and it’s hard doing anything with a three-year-old that isn’t kid oriented.”

I was mad I couldn’t go to the doctor with my children. I read about Harbor Haven in a local paper and called to see if there was room. I wanted Claude to mingle with other children too. He had a great time and I was able to take care of things.”

Regular clients are common

Because the center is state-licensed, paperwork must be filled out in advance, including immunization records. Many families enroll their children and schedule times for care at Harbor Haven.

“We keep slots open for emergencies,” Dohr said. “If a family feels they need us, we want to be there for them.”

Dohr and Pam Bishop, Harbor Haven director, said they are seeing more children and families stressed from deployment.

“It’s a huge issue right now,” Bishop said. “But here, we strive to keep a healthy families healthy by giving free childcare to stressed out moms and dads.”

Many days, Harbor Haven helps pregnant or new mothers deal with active toddlers. “Moms may be alone and just not as able to care for their older child. We give them some time to rest or go to the doctor,” Dohr said.

“We’re hearing there isn’t much infant care available,” Bishop said. “And there’s not enough affordable, occasional drop in care for any age.”

“Our eventual goal is to be open 24 hours and day, seven days a week,” Dohr said. “So many parents are on shift work. And there’s no night or weekend care on North Whidbey. We’d also like to have a place to take sick kids.”

But right now, many people hope to keep Harbor Haven open.

“With no funding, we may have to close altogether,” Dohr said.

Can’t fence the kids in

Renee Gonzalez needed to clean house and do yard work. Her husband Manuel is due home from Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was attending U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant School. So Renee took her sons Isaac, 4, and Amadeo, 19 months, to respite care. “Without Harbor Haven I wouldn’t get work done,” Renee said. “I live on a a busy street. Our yard has no fence. I can’t watch the boys and work hard too. They move and could be in the street so fast.”

Renee takes Isaac and Amadeo to Harbor Haven about once a week. “I have no one else to watch them and I have to get work done,” she said.

Center serves many needs

In addition to regular daycare services, Harbor Haven offers care to special needs kids and to families with multiple-birth children. In many situations, Harbor Haven is the only avenue a family may have.

“We have 14 special kids enrolled,” Bishop said. She said some of the kids have autism, one child is partially paralyzed and another is hearing impaired. Harbor Haven supported a family whose child with emotional disorders was seeking the proper school. “We were here for that family until they found an alternative,” she said. “It’s so hard to find care for some of these kids.”

“And there’s no drop-in care for families with multiple births,” Dohr added. “We’ve helped families look for child care. Most of the time, the children are placed with different care givers — one here, the other across town.”

And, with all multiple births, child care costs are doubled or even tripled.

“Even if a family can find care for multiples, they may not be able to afford the bill,” Dohr said.

Teagan and Sasha Williams, 2, spent an afternoon at Harbor Haven. “It’s a wonderful service,” there mom Sarah said. “They’re two and always disobeying Mommy. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have a break. It’s a relief to know if I really need a break, Harbor Haven is there. The kids always have a great time and Pam is great. I know I can trust her.”

Sarah Williams had not heard about the possibility of Harbor Haven closing. “That’s horrible,” she said. “We scrape pennies to get by. We’re a Navy family and don’t have family near. We have few friends. It’s rare to find someone you trust who will watch your kids for free. Teagan and Sasha need Harbor Haven.”

“We fill a niche on North Whidbey,” Dohr said.

“If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be full everyday,” Bishop added.

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