February 17, 2021

Child Care Providers and State Legislators Discuss Policy Changes

Trying Together and child care providers joined Pennsylvania state policymakers on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 to voice their concerns about recent state-level program and policy changes that have widely destabilized the child care sector.  

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, child care subsidy payments in Pennsylvania were modified so reimbursement was based on enrollment versus attendance. At the time, this measure was taken to ensure financial stability as child care providers were encountering complex challenges that exceeded the scope of their normal operations, including mandated closures. In September 2020, at Governor Tom Wolf’s direction, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) restored the original subsidy payment practices from enrollment-based back to attendance-based, which has had a devastating effect since many programs continue to be under-enrolled due to COVID-19.

“At this point we are at 66% of our pre-COVID enrollment. This loss of about 35% equates to more than $1.5 million in tuition. We are feeling it big time,” said Jason Kunzman, Chief Program Officer, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. “We believe that the primary driver in not being able to admit more children into our programs is actually the difficulty we’ve experienced in trying to recruit qualified staff. It goes without saying that operating in a COVID environment, everything is harder. What used to take one person to do now takes three people…this has been a real hardship to the entire industry.  

“[We need] more sustainable, longer-lasting changes to the financial model that can make high-quality  care accessible to as many families as possible while allowing providers to pay their educators a livable wage.”

To compound these constraints, OCDEL repurposed the Education & Retention Award (ERA) for STAR 3 and STAR 4 high-quality educators to a Pandemic Relief Award (PRA) in December 2020, providing $600 to 33,000 child care employees across the state with many programs waitlisted due to a lack of funds. 

Currently in Pennsylvania, the average wage of a child care professional is $9.71 per hour with 50% of them receiving government benefits.

“Many of my staff are single moms or low-income who qualify for subsidies themselves… They returned to work during a pandemic, they risked their lives and their family’s lives for the greater good of the Pennsylvania economy, and the money was taken from them,” said Tracy O’Connell, Child Care Director, Catholic Youth Association. “To take away the only extra money these hardworking, dedicated teachers earn each year – during the year they deserve it the most – is heartless. There has to be a way to keep the ERA money for what it is designed to do, and that is to retain and reward degreed staff.”

Since the ERA typically awarded more funds than this to its recipients, the loss of the ERA further disincentivizes high-quality educators to remain in the field. Essentially, Pennsylvania doesn’t have the funds to meet the full needs of child care providers due to this change.

Senator Jay Costa, Senate Minority Leader (D-Allegheny), said child care providers are faced with a “catch-22” if the ERA is permanently taken away. 

STARS requires you to have degreed  folks but you don’t have money to retain them because [their money is being taken away],” Senator Costa said. “We shouldn’t tie your hands behind your back to try to have you meet standards that let people know the quality of service that you’re providing because here are criteria you have to meet. Both Democrats and Republicans are committed to working with you on this.” 

The Commonwealth will receive $302 million in federal dollars to support child care via the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds from the most recent COVID-19 relief package.

Senator Lindsey Williams, Education – Minority Chair (D-Allegheny), said it’s important to invest in early childhood education.

It’s heartbreaking that we as a legislature haven’t found a way as of yet to take care of the child care workforce because that’s the only way we get our economy going,” she said. “You have my support to use existing federal dollars, hopefully future federal dollars and whatever state funding we can come up with to actually address these policy issues…so that it’s a big structural change on how we fund child care.” 

Senator Camera Bartolotta, Labor & Industry, Chair (R- Beaver, Greene, Washington) also stressed that the early childhood education workforce is essential to the state’s economic recovery.

“It is vital – it is imperative – that we get folks back to work. When we are opening our economy safely, these parents need their kids to be in a safe, healthy learning environment,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that all of these institutions stay healthy economically as well as physically. That’s something that we have to prioritize. We are not going to open our economy if parents don’t have a safe place for their kids to go.”

The child care providers, families, and early learning advocates throughout the state like Trying Together look forward to the concerns discussed during yesterday’s call being addressed and resolved.

Read More

Child Care Worker Subsidy Replaced An Award That Providers Say Incentivized Staff Higher Education, 90.5 WESA

Child Care Facilities Call On Pennsylvania Lawmakers For Financial Assistance, KDKA-TV

Child care providers say Pa. policy shifts are causing financial strain, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Child care facilities struggling, PublicSource


March 23, 2020

No Small Matter – Virtual Screening

Join co-hosts Trying Together and Start Strong PA on Friday, April 17, 2020 for a virtual screening and discussion of No Small Matter, a documentary film that highlights the importance of high-quality early education and its impact on all Americans.

This event will be hosted on Zoom. Digital access links will be emailed to all attendees during the week of the event. Registration is required.


    • 11:00 – 11:45 | Documentary Screening
    • 11:45 – 12:15 | Discussion*
    • 12:15 – 12:30 | Action Item and Wrap Up

*Additional time may be included for further discussion.


To save your spot, complete this registration form!


For questions, contact:

About No Small Matter

No Small Matter is the first feature documentary to explore the most overlooked, underestimated, and powerful force for good in America today: early childhood education. Through poignant stories and surprising humor, the film lays out the overwhelming evidence for the importance of the first five years, and reveals how our failure to act on that evidence has resulted in an everyday crisis for American families, and a slow-motion catastrophe for the country.


March 9, 2020

Interviews with Ms. Barb and Families at the Frank Sarris Library

Prior to the start of the Washington County Focus Week (March 9 – 13, 2020), Trying Together visited staff, families, and young children at the Frank Sarris Public Library in Canonsburg for a reading of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” At the event, library staff member Barbara Somma, aka Ms. Barb, led children and their caregivers through a series of activities, including fingerplays, dances, and a Dr. Seuss themed craft. The classroom included creative play items for the children as well, including a puppet show theater, “grocery market,” books, legos, and more.

After the class, Trying Together had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Barb and two participating caregivers, Karen and Kim. Featured below are our questions and each interviewees’ responses.


Barbara Somma, Class Teacher

Barbara Somma, or as the children call her, “Ms. Barb,” brightens the day of each child and caregiver who attends her classes. Having a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Special Education under her belt, Ms. Barb spent the last 10 years as a dedicated staff member at the Frank Sarris Public Library. If you stop by the Library, you can catch Ms. Barb leading Storytime, Little Picassos, Wiggles and Giggles, and the Summer Reading Camp! Odds are, she will have a crowd of young children giggling and following her happily!

  • What programming does Frank Sarris Library provide for young children and families?

The Frank Sarris Library offers a plethora of programming for children and families! Monday through Friday, we have activities geared towards preschool level children like storytime, yoga storytime, art, and a class called Wiggles and Giggles that is focused on body movement. During the month of July, we also offer a Summer Reading Camp for children in Kindergarten through fourth grade that includes creative themes like Fairytale Science, Mysical Beasts, and Magic School. They’re all meant to spark each child’s imagination. We offer services all throughout the year though, including books for readers of all ages, creative “Grable Kits,” several e-resources, and more.

  • How can caregivers make literacy experiences meaningful for their young children?

I think by just reading to your children all of the time. Read for 20 minutes a day, every day with your children. As a mother of two, I would always read a couple books with them right before bed. It’s also important to get a library card! They’re free and the library has tons of free resources for young children and families.

  • Why do you feel early childhood development is so important for young children?

Early childhood development is the basis for everything a child needs in life! Children learn from meaningful experiences and repetition. As adults, we need to make sure we are providing the time and patience for those experiences!

  • How do you see your role at the Frank Sarris Library supporting early childhood development in your community?

I think my role is really important here at the Frank Sarris Library. We serve many families and it’s important that we provide children with safe places to go. All of the staff here at the Library serve as role models within the community. However, our Library is an untapped resource. There are so many services that community members could benefit from if they stopped by.

Karen and Granddaughter Ellie

  • How did you like today’s event? What piqued your interest in attending?

Everything Ms. Barb does is truly amazing. I’ve been coming here for seven and a half years and I’ve brought all of my grandchildren. I was interested in attending because I wanted to make sure my grandchildren had social interactions with young children, and Ms. Barb allows the children to have these great social experiences! By coming here, my grandchildren have learned language concepts and vocabulary. Ms. Barb is so dynamic. She exudes engaging and creative energy in everything she does!

  • What’s your favorite book to read to your child? Why?

Ellie doesn’t have a favorite book, she really just loves to read! She is very into the alphabet right now!

Kim and Grandson

  • How did you like today’s event? What piqued your interest in attending?

Ms. Barb is great! Attending this program is the best thing I have done with my grandson! We heard about the children’s programs here through word of mouth. We have been attending since he was about six months old. We love Ms. Barb’s music and freeze dancing!

  • What’s your favorite book to read to your child?

He loves reading Elmo and Mini Mouse right now!

More Information

This session was one of many free services that the Frank Sarris Public Library provides, with options available for learners of all ages. To learn more about their services, visit the Frank Sarris Public Library website! To learn more about the Washington County Focus Week, read our news post!


March 6, 2020

Washington County Focus Week Urges Increased Investments

In March 2020, Trying Together, Pre-K for PA, and Start Strong PA are co-hosting the Washington County Focus Week to highlight the need for increased child care and pre-kindergarten investments in future Pennsylvania budgets.


Taking place from March 9 through March 13, 2020, the Washington County Focus Week seeks to:

    • highlight quality infant and toddler child care in Washington and Allegheny County;
    • thank state policymakers for investments in high-quality early learning programs;
    • document continued unmet need for high-quality child care and pre-k in Washington and Allegheny County;
    • and urge state policymakers to make high-quality child care and pre-k top priorities in future state budgets to increase access to and the affordability of these critical programs.

The Washington County Focus Week is one of many to come. Pre-K For PA, Start Strong PA, and campaign partner organizations like Trying Together will host additional Focus Weeks in districts across the Commonwealth throughout the year. These weeks were developed, in part, due to the need for increased child care funding in the Pennsylvania state budget, as 73 percent of eligible children under the age of five are not receiving high-quality child care services

Why It Matters

According to the Committee for Economic Development’s 2019 Child Care in State Economies Fact Sheet, the average annual cost of child care for an infant in Pennsylvania is $11,560 in a child care center. That is roughly 21 percent of the state’s median income and 80 percent of the cost of tuition and fees at a four-year state college in Pennsylvania. These costs remain a major barrier for many parents and caregivers, especially those who are seeking to enter, re-enter, or remain in the workforce. 

Issues of access are not limited to child care, however, as 56 percent of eligible three- and four-year-olds in Pennsylvania do not have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-k according to recent data from KIDS COUNT: Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. Locally, 55 percent of eligible children in Washington County do not have access to high-quality, publicly funded pre-k.

Both Pre-K For PA and Start Strong PA commented on the most recent 2020-2021 Pennsylvania State Budget proposal, stating, “Although the Governor’s budget proposal utilizes $15.3 million in federal funding toward child care subsidy base rates, this proposal will have no impact in addressing the list of children waiting to gain access to subsidized care or improve the quality of that care.”

No Small Matter Screening

On March 12 from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Collier Community Center (which lies on the border of Washington and Allegheny Counties in Oakdale, Pennsylvania) Washington County constituents are invited to attend a free screening and panel discussion of the early childhood documentary, No Small Matter.

Through poignant stories and surprising humor, No Small Matter lays out the overwhelming evidence for the importance of the first five years of life and reveals how our failure to act on that evidence has resulted in an everyday crisis for American families, and a slow-motion catastrophe for the entire country. These crises are playing out in Pennsylvania, as families and caregivers across the Commonwealth are struggling to access high-quality pre-kindergarten and child care programs.

Panelists will include:

    • Senator Camera Bartolotta
    • Representative Jason Ortitay
    • Representative Timothy J. O’Neal
    • Donna Shriver, SmartKids Child Care & Learning Center
    • Audra Redick, The University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development

Visit our event webpage to register and learn more!

More Information

For more information about the Washington County Focus Week and the additional early learning advocacy efforts of Trying Together, contact Cristina Codario, Public Policy Regional Coordinator at 412.567.3673 or

For more information about Pre-K For PA or Start Strong PA, visit and online respectively.


January 27, 2020

Take Action to Support Infants and Toddlers in Pennsylvania

Are you interested in advocating to increase access to and the affordability of child care for infants and toddlers in Pennsylvania? Take action by completing Start Strong PA’s current advocacy ask!


In December 2019, a campaign for high-quality child care in Pennsylvania called Start Strong PA delivered a New Year’s resolution photo frame to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The frames included a spot for a photo, a place for their signature, and the following resolution:

In 2020, I resolve that all children deserve to start strong.
I will support the healthy development of all Pennsylvania’s infants and toddlers by fighting for greater access to high-quality child care.

Now, Start Strong PA is encouraging the General Assembly to take a picture with the signed photo frame and share it across their social media platforms. However, Start Strong PA needs your help! Throughout January, the campaign is asking Pennsylvania families and caregivers to send in photos of their infants and toddlers to place inside the frames. Will you reinforce Start Strong PA’s mission to increase access to and the affordability of high-quality infant/toddler early learning programs?

How You Can Help

To send in a photo, complete the following steps:

    • Find your Senator or Representative by visiting:
    • Type in your address and press search.
    • You will be given links to your Pennsylvania House and Senate members.
    • Click on the link (their name) and you will be sent to their website. On the left-hand side, you can find their Harrisburg office address.
    • Place the 4 x 6 photo(s) and a message that says “Make me your New Year’s resolution!” in an envelope, add postage, and mail to their Harrisburg office.

Looking to go a step further? Send your Senator and Representative a reminder as well by completing a pre-filled form on our Take Action page!

More Information

For questions or to send your picture to Start Strong PA, email


December 17, 2019

Setting Your Rates: The Cost of Quality

Join the Pennsylvania Child Care Association (PACCA) on January 6 for “Setting Your Rates: The Cost of Quality and the Market Rate Survey” to gain a better understanding of the variables that impact quality, how to incorporate those key elements into your budget, and identify and combine funding streams to achieve your program goals.


Child Care Works subsidy rates are established by OCDEL based in part on the private pay rates providers report in PELICAN. Are your rates based on your actual costs? How much does “quality” child care really cost and how do you calculate that? Join PACCA to hear from experienced administrators of high-quality programs on how they budget for the true cost of quality and the funding/support needed to achieve high-quality based on their program standards. Hear tips and learn about resources to ensure your budget reflects your goals and the true costs of operating a quality child care program.


To register, visit the PACCA website.

Learn More

For questions, contact Maureen Murphy at 717.657.9000, x 107.

*Information provided by the Pennsylvania Child Care Association (PACCA)


October 1, 2019

Indicators of High-Quality Inclusion | Webinar

Join the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) on October 15 for their free webinar, “Indicators of High-Quality Inclusion: A Comprehensive Set of Tools.”


This webinar is designed to provide an overview of the National Early Childhood Inclusion Indicators Initiative, a joint project by NCPMI and Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center.  The suite of materials—developed for states, local programs and child environments—intended to increase the implementation of high-quality inclusive practices will be presented.

Specific attention will be paid to the early childhood education environment (ECEE) inclusion indicators. Video examples will be used to illustrate the implementation of the ECEE inclusion indicators in a variety of programs as well as implications for local program and state level staff.


To register and learn more, visit the NCPMI website.

*Information provided by NCPMI


July 1, 2019

ELRC Region 5 Launches in Allegheny County

Today, July 1, 2019, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (ACDHS) officially became the ELRC for Region 5, providing information and services to families and early childhood professionals about high-quality child care in Allegheny County.

These services and information provided include:

  • Child Care Works Subsidized Child Care Program (CCW)
  • Keystone STARS
  • Early Learning Programs (like PA Pre-K Counts and Head Start)
  • Early Intervention

As is customary for ACDHS, the agency chose two well established partners to facilitate this work including, The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers and Trying Together. The Alliance will provide direct service to families, while Trying Together will provide direct service to early care and education providers in Allegheny County.

About ELRC Region 5


At ELRC Region 5, we recognize the dignity and potential of all people through our interactions with those we serve and the services we seek to deliver, coordinate and align.

We commit to:

  • Meeting and honoring the child, family and early care and education professional where they are on their developmental journey.
  • Recognizing that children are best supported in the context of their family, culture, neighborhood, and community.
  • Recognizing (or realizing) we have much to learn from children, families and early care and education professionals and seek to bring this learning to our work.
  • Collaborating in partnership across sectors and expertise to deliver services that build on the inherent strengths of children, families, and the early care and education professional.
  • Building familial, professional and partner relationships with open and honest communication.
Services Available

Community members may call or visit one of several ELRC sites to receive information or initiate services. Families will be greeted and connected to a Family Navigator for on-going assistance. The Navigators will help their clients understand and navigate the early care and education system, including supporting them through the process to apply for and enroll to receive a child care subsidy, while simultaneously assessing for and connecting them with other supports and services that meet their needs. Once a family has completed the initial application process, they are connected to a Family Specialist for the ongoing management of their child care subsidy.


Early childhood professionals first will connect with an Early Learning Program Engagement Specialist and subsequently a Quality Coach – all of whom are assigned to regions so that providers can turn to a consistent staff person in their community. The Early Learning Program Engagement Specialist will serve as the professional’s initial point of contact and will help to identify the initial needs of the provider, such as enrollment in Child Care Works (CCW – the child care subsidy program) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) or support to participate or increase quality in the Keystone STARS program. They are responsible for recruiting, establishing eligibility, and enrolling providers of all types in Child Care Works.

Quality Coaches will complete a full needs assessment with the program staff, and based on individualized plans, the coaches will use a variety of methods to support continuous quality improvement. The assigned Quality Coach will serve as the provider’s single point of contact, helping to coordinate support from the full team available to assist providers with a variety of tasks, specialized needs, or challenges (STARS designations, CCW billing, etc.).

Service Offerings
  • Supplemental services will vary by location, but core services available at each site include:
  • Assistance with understanding, identifying, and enrolling in high quality child care
  • Connection to an appropriate home visiting program, including Early Head Start
  • Information about the Family Support Centers
  • Public benefits enrollment through Compass
  • Voter registration
  • Support for Early Care and Education Providers
  • Provider enrollment in CCW
  • Provider enrollment in Child and Adult Care Food Program
  • Provider support for continuous quality improvement through individualized coaching to obtain higher STAR levels
  • Support for Relative Provider certification (health and safety)
  • Referrals and connections to community-based services covering a full range of human services
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where are the ELRC Region 5 offices located and how do I contact them?

Main Office:

ELRC Region 5
304 Wood Street, STE 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15222-1928

Satellite Offices: (Beginning August 1, 2019)

Kingsley Association
6435 Frankstown Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Hosanna House
807 Wallace Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15221

Human Services Center
519 Penn Avenue
Turtle Creek, PA 15145

South Hills Interfaith Movement
41 Macek Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15227

Providence Family Support Center
3113 Brighton Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15212

Focus on Renewal Learning Center
500 Chartiers Avenue
McKees Rocks, PA 1513

Phone: 412.350.3577
Toll-Free: 1.888.340.3572
Fax: 412.350.3575


Facebook: @ELRCregion5
Twitter: @ELRCregion5

What are the hours of operation?


8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.*

*Walk-ins accepted until 4:30 p.m.


8:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m.**

**5:00–7:00 p.m. by appointment only

Who manages ELRC Region 5?

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (ACDHS) partners with the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) to support Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) Region 5 in partnership with The Alliance for Infants and Toddlers and Trying Together.

In spring of 2018, the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) announced that the state was moving towards a new service model called an Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC). This change was made to consolidate family and early learning provider services to better meet the needs of young children, their families, and the early childhood professionals who interact with them.


May 20, 2019

Allegheny County Children’s Fund Community Meeting

Join the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Working Group on May 30 at the Jeron X Grayson Community Center in the Hill District to share your views on what works best and what additional support is needed when it comes to early learning and out-of-school time.


Allegheny County’s goal is to make sure that every child can benefit from quality early learning and out-of-school time. A series of six Community Meetings are being held across the County to learn from families, caregivers, and educators what access to quality early learning and out-of-school time looks like today—from your perspective and in your community.

Each meeting will include child care, refreshments, and opportunities for community members to voice their input on how Allegheny County can be a leader for kids moving forward.

Community Meeting Dates

The Allegheny County Children’s Fund Working Group and community members will convene on the following dates:

    • City Meeting – May 30 | 6:30 p.m. | Jeron X Grayson Center, Hill District
    • West Meeting – June 3 | 6:30 p.m. | The Landing Community Center, Moon Township
    • South Meeting – June 4 | 6:30 p.m. | Bethel Park Community Center
    • North Meeting – June 5 | 6:00 p.m. | Shaler North Hills Library
    • East Meeting – June 12 | 6:30 p.m. | Founders Hall Middle School, McKeesport
    • Spanish-Language Meeting – June 18 | 6:30 p.m. | YWCA Building, Downtown Pittsburgh

Registration & Questions

Visit the Community Meeting website to learn more, RSVP, or contact event organizers.


April 22, 2019

Foundations Urged to Unite to Reinforce Early Learning

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Gregg Behr and Kristen Burns, both Executives of the Grable Foundation, discuss the topic of early childhood programs and explore the increasing general awareness of the important role of early learning experiences.


Data has repeatedly shown that “kids who participate in high-quality programs develop a greater capacity for cognitive and social-emotional skills like collaboration, communication, and perseverance — skills that improve school attendance, grades, and more.”

However, with the current levels of early childhood funding, only “two-thirds of American four-year-olds are enrolled in early learning programs…with less than a quarter of those programs being considered high-quality.” Because of this, advocates are calling for grantmakers and foundations to step up, as many have, to reinforce the positive impact of early childhood programs.

Toxic Stress and Trauma

In the article, Behr and Burns discuss the negative impacts of sustained exposure to toxic stress and trauma. Because of this, disadvantaged kids may be taking the brunt of the impact with greater risks for developmental delays linked to problems such as “poor academic achievement, substance abuse, and diabetes.” However, studies show that even if a young child is exposed to toxic stress and trauma, many of the negative impacts may be reduced if the child has access to a positive, safe, and supportive early learning experience. By advocating for increased investments in early childhood, foundations are advocating to support the healthy development and success of our nation’s children.

Current Funding

Behr and Burns state that “among the 91 grantmakers surveyed, one-third reported funding [efforts related to early childhood programs]. Of those, well over half anticipated increased support in the next two years.” However, despite wide and growing support for the cause, early childhood spending gets just four percent of foundation dollars. Because of this, advocates are calling on grantmakers and foundations to unite in an effort to support the benefits of early childhood programs. While philanthropy cannot take the place of adequate government funding, any supportive effort today “may lead to better public policy tomorrow.”

Learn More

To read the full article, including clear examples highlighted in the Grantmakers for Education report, visit the website.

Gregg Behr is executive director of the Grable Foundation and chairman of Grantmakers for Education. Kristen Burns is associate director of Grable.