When Lillian first encountered All Our Kin, she was living in the Life Haven homeless shelter with her two young children. Their father had recently become incarcerated. Lillian was studying to get her master’s degree in social work, but finding child care was proving a barrier to completing her studies and securing a job. Her two oldest children could stay in the child care at Life Haven for the time being, but Lillian was pregnant with her third child. She knew she would need a place for her youngest daughter after she was born.
In the summer of 2011, Lillian met Carlos, All Our Kin’s Family Advocate. Carlos helped Lillian enroll her youngest daughter, Danasia, in All Our Kin’s Early Head Start program, which we run in collaboration with the United Way of Greater New Haven. Through Early Head Start, Lillian was able to obtain free, full-day care for Danasia at Little Flowers Family Day Care, run by All Our Kin provider Nicole Richardson.
As the youngest of twelve children, Nicole grew up caring for many young nieces and nephews. “I always wanted to do day care,” Nicole says, “but I didn’t know how to get started.” After sending her own daughter to an All Our Kin provider for child care, Nicole sought out mentorship and professional development from All Our Kin and ultimately became one of our first Early Head Start (EHS) providers. When she got to know Lillian, Nicole recalls feeling that Lillian was an extraordinary person with a great personality and calm spirit. “Lillian was a different and a special case,” Nicole says. “It was something in her that my heart reached out to.”
Ultimately, Nicole would care for all three of Lillian’s children, with Lillian’s two older children staying with Nicole before and after school and in the summer. Nicole and her son Akile did everything they could to support Lillian and her family. After Lillian’s car was stolen and the engine blew out in her replacement vehicle, Nicole opened early—as early as 5:45 am, for one period of time—and stayed open late to accommodate Lillian’s bus schedule. Akile sometimes even took Lillian’s older children to school.
Nicole’s program offered Lillian and her family much-needed stability in a time of turmoil. “At least [my children] knew where they’d be in the morning and where they’d be in the afternoon,” Lillian recalls. “It was a relief. I didn’t have to worry about who was going to pick them up from the bus stop, I was able to keep them in the same place, I didn’t have to worry about another transition.” Nicole also helped set Lillian at ease about leaving her children behind. “I could pop in at any time,” Lillian remembers. “She would welcome me.”
For Lillian’s youngest daughter Danasia, entering Little Flowers Family Day Care offered access to the loving and stable care she needed to develop and flourish. Nicole and Akile vividly remember the day that Danasia first came to their program. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Akile. “It was a hot summer day.” For Nicole, “[i]t was a connection right there.” From that point forward, the mother and son pair gave Danasia a supportive space to experiment, play, and grow.
All Our Kin’s Senior Educational Consultant, Paula, worked closely with Nicole, Akile, and Danasia during this time. She says that Danasia initially had “a little separation anxiety,” but that Nicole and Akile’s loving care helped “to make her feel secure and confident.” Nicole and Akile remember Danasia as a “very cuddly baby” who was “open to anything.” Akile says she “liked to read a lot, liked to color, liked to interact.” She formed relationships with other children, learning to share and bond with others. Paula was especially struck when Danasia achieved one developmental milestone in particular. “I marked down the day–March 13—that she greeted me by name. That’s a milestone,” Paula says. “Being able to form a trusting relationship with other adults.”
Paula’s relationship with Nicole allowed her to observe both Danasia’s development and Nicole’s progression as a caregiver. During her time with All Our Kin, Paula says she’s “seen Nicole grow as a provider.” When Nicole had concerns about her work with Danasia or other children in her program, she turned to Paula or Nancy, another All Our Kin Educational Consultant, for consultation and support.
With her children in stable care with Nicole and Akile, Lillian eventually moved out of the shelter and into her own apartment. As an EHS parent, she continued to turn to All Our Kin for resources and support. Because Danasia was enrolled in an EHS program, she received wraparound health services. Lillian remembers that the EHS program team helped her keep track of her insurance and reminded her to schedule Danasia’s dentist appointments. Carlos was “quick to answer” Lillian’s many questions about Danasia’s development. At a time when Lillian needed positive reinforcement, she describes Carlos as “super attuned to what I was doing right” and “a great support.”
Lillian also participated in All Our Kin programs including child development classes, classes about saying good-bye to children at the start of the day, and even baby yoga. Lillian became a member of the EHS Parent Policy Council, which gave her the opportunity to weigh in on all aspects of the EHS program. “I had a voice,” Lillian says of being on the Policy Council. “[It was] empowering to have a say in what’s going on.”
When she reflects on All Our Kin’s impact on her family, Lillian emphasizes the stability it created for her children. Prior to coming to All Our Kin, the changes in their lives had led her two oldest children to have behavioral and emotional issues. “We went through—in one year—so many transitions,” Lillian recalls. All Our Kin helped to normalize these changes and provide Lillian’s children with the stable care they needed. Access to consistent child care helped Lillian finish her degree in 2011. She then secured a full-time job as a clinician at a substance abuse clinic in New Haven and currently works in a similar position in Waterbury.
Lillian is thankful for the support her family has received from All Our Kin and encourages other parents to seek out All Our Kin’s programs. She says it’s possible to “feel the genuine connection with the people of All Our Kin.” She’s also grateful to Nicole, who she says eventually became like a “second mom” to Danasia. And Nicole and Akile? If they could do it all again with Lillian, they say they would. “I’ve been there like a parent, too,” says Nicole, as an explanation for the extraordinary steps she took to help Lillian. Akile adds, “it’s part of our service.”