Recent News / Blog



Marianna, FL – Childcare centers across the country are no longer receiving direct government aid from the American Rescue Plan Act; however, some of that funding is still accessible following decisions from state lawmakers to set aside $315 million to continue helping childcare providers through June 30, 2024. 

ELCNWF, which services Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington Counties is expected to receive $4.9 million dollars from the Early Learning Discretionary Grant Program. 

The first round of funding of $1.2 million began October 27. Childcare providers in ELCNWF’s service area can apply for $10,000 grants to offset operational costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications will be open until December 1 or until funds are expended. So far, 53 childcare providers have received grants totaling $530K.  

Allowable expenditures include items such as indoor and outdoor equipment, classroom materials, payroll or bookkeeping software and licensing fees. 

“We are so grateful to be able to provide these grants to support childcare providers,” said ELCNWF Executive Director Suzan Gage. “Childcare providers are dealing with changing demands and increasing costs. These grants will help bring providers relief so that they can continue serving families in Northwest Florida.” 

The next round of funding for childcare centers will be announced in early 2024. Providers who contract with ELCNWF will receive email notifications and the application will be posted on our website. 

Providers can apply for the first round of funding using the link below:

For more information on grant funding, contact Lindsay Holmes at [email protected]. For media availability, contact Tami Valdez, at [email protected]

Wellness During the Holidays

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There are a few simple things that we can do this holiday season to help our children stay mentally and physically well. Diet plays a critical role in our wellness and foods such as berries, green vegetables, and pumpkin seeds promote brain development and support immune health.

Fatigue, body aches, and feeling down can be a sign that your child is overdue for a wellness check, but don’t forget about their brain’s health! Mental health challenges can be overwhelming during the holiday season. This is to be expected when routines are off, family members you haven’t seen for a while are crowded in your personal space, and there’s tons of funny looking food without a chicken nugget in sight.

Here are some tips for helping your child combat stress:

  • Plan ahead and consider creating a safe space for your children to express themselves in new places. Reflect and respond to your child’s thoughts, feelings, and needs which will create an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance for your child and help prevent problems.
  • Pick your battles and try to use humor. Finding a way to laugh with your child will help relieve their body’s stress response and redirect from negative feelings.

While children pour into their caregivers for support this holiday season, it is important that we don’t forget to pour into ourselves. Self-care can replenish a parent’s energy, focus, and positivity. Whatever strategies you choose to keep you and your family well, be intentional and do it with love. For more tips on how to promote your child’s wellness during the holidays, contact our Help Me Grow team at [email protected].

Family Engagement Month 2023

November is Family Engagement Month which is a special time to recognize the vital role that parents and families play in their child’s education. After all, families are their child’s first teacher. This month is an opportunity for families to partner with the Early Learning Coalition and early learning programs to support their children’s learning and development.

What is Family Engagement?

Familes are engaged when they partner with early learning programs to promote their children’s development, learning, and wellness. Positive relationships between families and staff in early learning programs are the foundation for family engagement.

Family engagement has been shown to:

  • Increase a child’s motivation to learn
  • Reduce behavioral problems
  • Support growth and development
  • Foster school readiness skills, such as impulse control, attention, memory, and planning skills

The following checklist is a tool for your family to use to consider the level of partnership with your child’s early learning program. Ask yourself the following questions and check a box for your answer. For any items answered “no”, you may want to write a note on how you can begin doing that item. Consider sharing your responses with your child’s teacher and discuss ways you can be even more engaged in your child’s learning.

Family Engagement Ideas

Below are ideas of ways you can increase engagement with your children:

  • Visit your local library and read together.
  • Read your child’s daily note and talk about the activities they did at school.
  • Explore and talk about different jobs or careers with your child.
  • As a family, learn more about recycling efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
  • Encourage conversation among family members at the dinner table.
  • Invite your child to help you plan a meal, make a grocery list, shop, and help prepare the meal.
  • Use ‘downtime’ in the car or on a walk to sing songs or teach nursery thymes to your child.
  • During bath time let your child discover which objects will float and which objects sink.
  • Draw a picture with your child from their favorite book.
  • Use facial expressions and have your child guess the emotion you are showing. Are you happy, sad, or scared?
  • Talk about things for which your family is grateful.
  • Add some fun to everyday routines. Play music and dance together while making dinner, folding laundry, or cleaning up.
  • Talk with your family about helping others and why it is important.
  • Take a walk with your child and collect leaves to sort by shape and size.
  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine with your child (bathing, brushing teeth, reading a story).
  • Talk, read, and sing to your baby or young child every day. It helps your child’s brain development.
  • Take a walk through your home and make finding counting activities part of a regular routine.
  • Share five favorite things about your child with them.
  • Talk! It’s the #1 thing you can do to support your child.
  • Plan a day with no electronics. Read books, play board games, or do puzzles with your child.
  • Help your child find numbers, shapes, or colors during the day.
  • Ask your child what activity they would like to do today.
  • Play your favorite music and dance with your child.
  • Read with your child and make a list of things that they wonder about from the book.
  • Visit a local park and talk about what they see.
  • Snuggle up and read to your child for 15 minutes.

Family Engagement Pledge

Take the following pledge and let your child know you are committed to their success.

As a parent, guardian, or caring adult, I pledge to support my child’s education and healthy development to the best of my ability because I am my child’s first teacher. I have high expectations for my child and want them to succeed in school and in life. I pledge to stay involved, serve as a positive role model, and maintain open communication with my child’s teachers to ensure education remains a top priority in my household. I understand that it is my responsibility to stay informed and involved in all parts of my child’s education and health. Education is the key to success, and I will do everything I can to promote my child’s ability to learn.

At the Early Learning Coalition, we also have a Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) program that can connect you with resources to help support your role as your child’s first teacher. You may contact them at 850-747-5400 ext. 108.

First Friday addresses early learning

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) —- Whenever industries consider relocating to Bay County, they consider the quality of education that’s available for their worker’s families.

That’s one of the reasons business leaders with the Bay County Chamber of Commerce created a task force this year to address a shortage of early education resources.

The early learning coalition told chamber members at the First Friday event, that more than 50 percent of 3rd graders are reading below grade level.

Experts said the lack of early learning plays a role in those lower scores. 

Early Learning Coalition Executive Director Suzan Gage also points out the long-term effects on the workforce.

“So child care and early learning specifically is like a coin two-sided,” Gage said. “You got to have child care so parents today can go to work, support their families. And you also need high-quality early learning child care in order to prepare the future workforce. So you got to have both of them can’t have one without the other.”

Free family program offers development screenings for children

By COLLIN BREAUX November 2, 2023

[email protected]

Parents of young and growing children may wonder if their child is on the autistic spectrum or if they are developing in a healthy way–and looking for assistance resources.

Help Me Grow Northwest Florida is able to provide such screening and referral services. The free and confidential program is available to families in Washington and Holmes counties–as well as Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, and Jackson counties.

Developmental screenings are available for children under nine years old. Parents can complete an online screening and learn more information at 

“We help families monitor their child’s development,” Help Me Grow Northwest Florida Early Childhood Care Coordination Manager Alyssa Gray said. “If there is a need, we make a referral.”

Screenings allow parents to see where their kids are on the developmental path and monitoring children can help parents see how their young ones are growing, Gray said. 

Addressing developmental challenges early is important since much of an individual’s physical and mental formation takes place early, she said. A recent survey of registered voters in Northwest Florida found that 8 in 10 residents agree that developmental screenings are critical to making sure children are on the right developmental path, according to a news release.

A lot of concern is had regarding children being on the autistic spectrum, according to Gray. One of their screenings checks for autism in toddlers.

Several families who have used Help Me Grow have “walked through that journey,” Gray said. One mother in particular has learned to embrace “new parenting models” after learning her child was autistic. 

“Some of our greatest success are giving mom and dad peace of mind that their child is developing well,” Gray said.

Help Me Grow is “parent-driven” and does not tell parents what they’re doing is wrong or how to handle their child’s unique needs, she said.

“Working with these families early on can change the trajectory of their child’s development,” Gray said.