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Holyoke Community College to Introduce Free Child-watch Service

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) will soon introduce a free, drop-in child-watch program for parents who need safe and affordable supervision for their children while they tend to their college studies.

When the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch opens in March, HCC will be just the second community college in the state — and the only one in Western Mass. — to offer a child-watch service for its students.

“As part of our strategic plan, we’ve been focused a lot on basic needs,” HCC President Christina Royal said, “and one of those basic needs is childcare.”

The Itsy Bitsy Child Watch will offer free, short-term care to children 6 weeks to 12 years old, provided their parents sign up in advance and remain inside on the Homestead Avenue campus. Parents will be given a restaurant-style pager to alert them to return if necessary.

“It’s not our goal to be in the daycare business,” Royal said. “Our goal is to be able to serve our students by providing short-term child watch they can access while they attend class or a tutoring session or other educational supports. That is our focus, and it’s been a long road to get here.”

The pilot phase is being funded through a $100,000 allocation in the 2022 Massachusetts budget secured by state Sen. John Velis.

“For parents looking to begin or support their education, finding reliable childcare is always a barrier,” Velis said. “This new program will help make a real difference in the lives of so many families, and I am proud I was able to advocate for HCC to receive these funds.”

HCC is in the process of hiring an interim director to get the child-watch program up and running. Many of the details still need to be worked out, such as days and hours of operation.

“We’re going to determine hours based on student needs,” said Sheila Gould, director of HCC’s Early Childhood Education program. “Our hope is that, in the future, our academic departments will align their courses to run when the child watch is open.”

Gould, also an HCC professor, was part of the team that put together the child-watch proposal. While the idea for an on-campus child-watch program had been kicking around for a few years, it gained more momentum during the pandemic, when many area childcare centers shut down, some never to reopen.

“As a mom myself and a mom who is still going to school, childcare is a barrier,” Gould said. “The more I got involved working here and advising, the more stories I heard from students who couldn’t take a class or had to drop a class or had too many absences because of childcare issues.”

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