Our Featured Leaders are Early Childhood Community stakeholders who work to make Oakland smarter and stronger. They are parents/caregivers, providers, educators, and collaborators.
Kym Johnson, Executive Director of BANANAS
Whether a parent or caregiver is looking for help finding a child care provider, information on coping with their child’s age or stage, or assistance in paying for child care, there’s a good chance they’ll end up contacting BANANAS. This 40+ year-old resource and referral agency offers workshops, classes, and connections to child care to families throughout Northern Alameda County. And it serves as a source of support for people who are employed as child care providers, whether in licensed settings or in homes.
BANANAS recently produced a toolkit and a series of videos designed to help create stronger partnerships between parents and their family, friend & neighbor caregivers (FFN). We sat down to talk with Executive Director Kym Johnson about the toolkit and more.
Why do you do what you do, Kym? I’m the daughter of an elementary school teacher. She understood the importance of early education, because she saw the difference between children who had a solid start and those who didn’t. When I had my daughter, she was on me: “when are you putting her in preschool?” I had other careers, but when this opening at BANANAS came up two years ago, I jumped on it.
I remember visiting BANANAS to check out the resources when my daughter was young. What breaks my heart is the people who don’t know about us still. Because all the services we provide are free. All the parent education, all the alternative payment programs, professional development we offer for providers -- all of it is provided at no cost to them.
Why did you produce this toolkit for family, friend & neighbor caregivers and for parents? Something like 80% of babies ages birth to two years, and approximately 40% of children up to age 5, are cared for by family, friend, and neighbor caregivers. That’s a huge number of kids! So the question is what can we do as a system to support this relationship.
They’re family, friends, and neighbors. They’re grandma, or the neighbor down the street. They’re not necessarily going to become licensed. But they play a really important role, and they need resources.
The feedback we got when we talked to parents and caregivers in the FFN world was that problems would come up when expectations weren’t aligned. Because it’s not “formal care,” and often because it’s a family member or friend, people were afraid to have a conversation upfront about what’s expected. So we created a template for child care agreements, special care instructions, and daily and overnight routines (because a lot of parents using FFN care work the swing shift or night shift). We also created a series of short videos to promote playing as learning and to explain the whole concept of child care resource and referral services such as BANANAS.
The toolkit isn’t just for parents and FFN providers: we also put together information to help our counselors explain family, friend, and neighbor care to people who come in looking for child care. And we circulated these talking points and toolkits to other resource and referral agencies throughout the state to offer suggestions on how they can support families in accessing this important type of care.
You’re a member of the Lead Planning Team for Oakland Starting Smart and Strong. How is your work making Oakland smarter and stronger? BANANAS’ philosophy has always been that if families are supported, the kids will be fine. That’s why our mission is “partnering with families and child care providers to raise happy, confident children.” And that’s why we are working to build stronger connections between families and their care providers.