From individual Cherokee families to the whole Cherokee Nation, keeping children safe is our most essential responsibility. When parents go to work or school to build a better future for their family, the children need a secure, enriching environment to stay in. No parent or caregiver should have to choose between building that better future and accessing great care for their kids.
That’s why Cherokee Nation is launching a number of major initiatives to help our families and child care providers. This past spring, we created an Early Childhood Task Force to identify areas of opportunity and unmet early child care needs across our 14-county reservation. The task force was created under the Verna D. Thompson Early Childhood Education Act of 2021, which also invested $40 million to renovate or replace all of the tribe’s Head Start child care centers.
We knew action was needed to help families, because access to child care has declined nationwide over the past decade, and the pandemic only made it worse. The seven-member task force analyzed child care needs across our reservation and found several areas where we can fill gaps for families and child care providers.
One recommendation is to increase pay for the tribe’s early child care workforce. We are now in the midst of implementing a 35% pay increase for those workers. Even before that increase, Cherokee Nation already paid above the national average for child care professionals. We will provide sign-on bonuses when hiring for early child care positions and offer more educational opportunities for the early child care workforce through Cherokee Nation Career Services. Together these measures will ensure that we have more talented, well-trained workers caring for our children.
Cherokee Nation will also offer a child care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) seeded with $2,000 per child to all tribal government employees. This allows our employees to cover child care costs with tax-free dollars.
We are partnering with Cherokee Nation Businesses to build a new child care facility at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, which will bring excellent, affordable child care to thousands of employees in the area. The facility will help fill a gap in Rogers County, which is home to nearly 4,000 Cherokee children under 13 years old, second only to Cherokee County. Before this expansion, there has been three children for each available child care slot in Rogers County.
We are also contributing an additional $5 million to the important work of local Boys & Girls Clubs, which provide after-school, summer and holiday programs for thousands of Cherokee children in the reservation.
Early childhood can set a foundation for a whole lifetime of learning, health and success. Certainly, Cherokees are resilient, and we’ve overcome so much, even as children. But thanks to that resilience, we have the resources to build our next generation even higher. Whatever we can do to help parents and children in these crucial years is an investment well worth it.
The complete Cherokee Nation Early Childhood Task Force report can be found here.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.