Building Families has a parent’s back

Program serves Hamilton, Humboldt, Wright counties

McKinley Bailey wants you to know three things about Building Families.

One: It’s part of the Early Childhood Iowa network, funded in part by appropriations from the Iowa Legislature.

Two: That funding has seeded Hamilton County’s success in turning a childcare system that was on the brink of collapse into one that’s successful now. “That is from the community participation,” said Bailey, who is Building Families’ director.

Three: “I’d like people to know we have all these programs out there and oftentimes we have vacancies. We know that families are struggling and we’d like to be a service for them,” Bailey said.

He simplified that thought.

“Basically, if you’re a parent, and you have a child under 5 and you’re struggling, give me a call and we’ll help,” Bailey added.

What is Building


Building Families is a three-county 501(c)(3) that is a hybrid of the Early Childhood Area board.

“According to the Iowa Code, that’s actually a local government,” Bailey said, providing clarification.

It serves three counties bilingually: Hamilton, Wright and Humboldt.

Right now, Building Families is perhaps best known for its involvement with the Hamilton County Childcare Coalition, whose efforts have successfully underwritten hourly bonuses for workers in the childcare businesses in Hamilton County.

And, you likely have heard of Bee Inspired CAPP, the hugely successful teen program run by Tiffany Larson that serves Hamilton, Wright and Franklin counties.

But Bailey wants you to know more about HOPES, the free and confidential outreach designed to back up a family when it comes to all things parenting.

“We have something called the Parent Connection,” he said. “That is a shorter-term service. Typically, it will last about seven weeks. What we do there — Angela Wesselink does that — she serves all three counties. She does partially contract with Wright County Public Health, but she works in all three counties. She serves children zero to 18. Basically, the idea is to give parents the skills they need to deal with challenging behaviors.”

“Kids don’t come with an instruction book, right?” he continued. “And so, parents who are struggling — my kid is doing this and I don’t know what to do about that now, or I feel like I’m missing some part of knowing how to be a parent, maybe because my parents weren’t the best parents or something like that — basically, Angela is the closest thing to an instruction book. She puts on classes and then, she’ll also go into the home. It’s once a week for about seven weeks and people really, really admire her.”

Here’s how it works.

“We prefer — it doesn’t always happen this way — we prefer to meet up with a mom or a family,” Bailey said. “Once a week, we’ll come to their house or they can meet at the library, however they like to do it, we’ll help them get ready to have the baby and then after the baby’s born we’ll continue to work with them, make sure they’re connected with all the resources available to them in the community, and track the health and well-being of the child and just support mom, you know?

“This program is not only for people who are poor,” he added. “We have some very high-income moms who have a child with some disability, Down syndrome, whatever it might be. … We do support anybody who needs it. But most of who we end up serving are people who are lower on the income scale.”

Bailey is very specific about how his agency defines need.

“People think about poverty and money, but when you really get into it, it’s a poverty of relationships,” he said. “When my car breaks down, I call my dad. A lot of people don’t have that. We can fill that void.”


Building Families receives funding from the Legislature in two allocations. One, which is the smaller one, called Early Childhood.

“That money we are required to spend on childcare, supporting the childcare system,” Bailey said. “The much larger pot of money is called the School Ready, and that we use to fund all the other things that we do.”

Also, with the creation of the Hamilton County Childcare Coalition, Building Families has had a major influx of funding from counties “who are using their ARPA — American Rescue Plan Act — dollars to support this, and also through Hamilton County from area businesses and individuals.”

The reality is, though, the ARPA funds will fall off.

“The county has already said they will probably not be able to continue the exact same level of commitment, but it is their intention at this point in time — obviously budgets fluctuate, economy changes — that their intention is to continue supporting it,” said Bailey. “And we can just say, wow, this worked, right? A lot of times in government you think you’ve got a solution for a problem and you try it and then it doesn’t work, right? But this is one where we can say, we did A, then B happened, and B is what we wanted to happen.”

The Hamilton County Childcare Coalition started with three-year support commitments.

“We asked everybody for a three-year pledge — and we’ll go back and do that again,” he said. “I think with the proven results we should be able to continue for at least six years. It would be hard for anybody who has put money into it to say, well that was a waste. So, we think we can go at least six years with this.”

“The Community Adolescent and Pregnancy Prevention program — which is what Larson does — is funded by a grant from the (Iowa) Department of Human Services and, starting this year, also private fundraising,” he continued. “The grant is not enough to cover the actual cost of the programming. So, we’re having to do some other fundraising to pay for that.”

Most of School Ready Iowa money received by Building Families goes to three HOPES programs — there’s one in each county.

They are long-term home visitation programs.

“These long-term home visitations will stay with the family pre-natally until the child turns 3,” Bailey said. “You’re talking years.”

Preschool support

“We do preschool scholarships,” Bailey said. “So, 4-year-old statewide voluntary preschool, that’s public obviously. It’s run through the school system. Three-year-old preschool, though, is not. That’s all entirely private. So, we, at most of the preschools in our three counties — I think with the exception of St. Thomas, they do not participate in our program — but the rest work with us and typically are able to provide scholarships up to at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level.”

“We don’t want income to be a reason kids can’t get into 3-year-old preschool,” he added.

Business Investment Program

“Another thing that we do aside from the childcare worker bonuses, for childcare, is called the Business Investment program, and that’s through a collaboration with Childcare Resource Referral of Northwest Iowa, Bailey said.

“Our in-home childcare providers are also eligible for it; it’s not just for folks in a center,” he added. “In-home providers, if they want to start an in-home childcare business, not only will Childcare Resource Referral work with them for free to get them started, but through the Business Investment program we can cover just about all of the costs associated with starting an in-home childcare business. We can go up to $750, and then anything over that — like if you’re by a busy road the inspector might say you need to put in a fence, or maybe you need an egress window — we can offer low-interest microloans to help cover anything above that cost.”

Once the in-home childcare business is up and running, the owner can return to Building Families for further support.

“If they take quality improvement measures, they get up to $500 a year to buy new things for their childcare business,” Bailey said. “So, we have not forgotten about those in-home childcare providers; it’s an essential element of childcare in the three counties.”


“We have contracts with all three public health departments to operate these programs,” Bailey said. “We’re paying for it. And the public health departments are also — we pay for two-thirds to 75 percent of the program and the public health departments cover the remaining quarter to a third of the cost in any given year. I’m basically a contract manager for these programs that I’m talking about.”

There are 38 Area Childhood Iowa area boards. Each one of them is different. In the case of Building Families, there is a full-time director — Bailey — whose job it is to champion the cause.

And he does.

“It’s important that the people who take care of our children are paid at least as much as the people who take care of our cheeseburgers,” said Bailey. “That was not the case in Hamilton County a year and a half ago.”

Then, the whole community stepped in.

That is progress.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today