Peoria teen parents finishing high school can access childcare via the Westminster Infant Care Center
Becoming a parent is a life altering event. For teenagers who become pregnant, knowing what to do after the baby is born can be a scary and lonely experience. Illinois saw 5,379 teen births in 2020 alone, according to Power to Decide.
Though in Peoria, teen moms don’t have to feel as if their life stops once they have a baby.
The Westminster Infant Care Center is a daycare specifically for teen moms who still need to complete high school, get their diploma and move on to their future career.
While the Westminster Infant Care Center has been around for 50 years, it has recently faced low enrollment numbers because of the pandemic and online schooling.
The Westminster Infant Care Center is also run by two women: the director Valerie Sager and assistant teacher Nisa Roberts. Both Sager and Roberts have always felt drawn to working with children.
“When I was younger, it was just like, everybody in my family, cousins, aunties would always bring their kids to me. It's like ‘you're really good. You should like do this all the time,’ like, ‘you should open your own daycare,’” Roberts said.
While Roberts first pursued CNA work and caring for the senior citizens, she eventually switched gears and found an opening at the Westminster Infant Care Center.
“Just seeing the babies thrive from being a two-month-old baby to when they leave, they're like 2 years old, and knowing that everything that that kid knows is something that you put into that kid. So, I think it's just incredible,” Roberts said.
On the other hand, Sager has worked in childcare facilities all over the world as she spent many years traveling alongside her husband, who was enlisted in the U.S. military. Sager has worked in Iceland, Hawaii, Scotland and Maryland. Sager moved back to the Peoria-area in 1999 and eventually found out that the Westminster Infant Care Center was in need of a director.
Sager said working with the younger kids is “just a natural fit.”
“…I absolutely love this age group. I think it's really the most important age group because we want to get everybody off to a good start. So, it really is birth to 3 right now. I love also working with the teen parents. It's sort of like two age groups, if you think about it. We've got the birth to 3, and then we've also got the adolescents that we work with,” Sager said.
A daycare that partners alongside teen and young adult parents who are still in junior high or high school is not common, and Sager said supporting teen parents is personally important to her because her parents were teen parents.
Sager said her mother had to stop going to school after she was born.
“There wasn't anything like this back. I was kind of hard on my mom growing up as a teenager because I didn't understand what she was going through, and my dad, both of them, but God has a way of teaching us lessons in life,” Sager said.
Sager continued, “So, here I am now 23 years later with a great appreciation for what my mom and dad did for me. The fact that they were there for me …. I try to relate with them and what they're going through and help them as much as I can because I see my mom and dad when I see them.”
Sager said the Westminster Infant Care Center is licensed through DCFS and has a history of only working with teen moms, but the center is open to both teen moms and teen dads in need of childcare services. Sager said in most cases, the teen mom is the one who has custody of the child, and so it’s typically moms that come to the center for help.
Sager said the two largest challenges teen moms face are having access to childcare and transportation. The Westminster Infant Care Center provides childcare Monday through Friday morning until evening and transportation to and from both school and the daycare.
“What we're doing right now, it is no cost to them. We don't charge for any of our transportation, but what we do is we have the driver pick them up at their home with their child, bring them to daycare center, to here, Westminster, and they sign their baby in, and then they go back out onto our bus, and then he takes them to school,” Sager said.
Sager and Roberts said the center still helps these parents navigate other challenges that may come up, such as mental health issues, food and formula shortages or housing issues by connecting them to other Peoria-area resources.
"So, we're like a family here, and we try to look out after the adolescents and the teens as if they are our own. So, we talk to them, ‘if there's anything you need, let us know, we will help you.’ So, there could be other issues that come up. So, we try to help them with the local resources that are there.”Valerie Sager, Westminster Infant Care Center director
“If they need, depending on what the status is at home, depending on what that is, it could be if they need food, we have a food pantry. If they need food for that day, we'll go get it from the food pantry that day and bring it in so they can take it home with them on the bus,” Roberts said.
Sager said the high school counselors, nurses and administrators also work alongside the center to make sure the moms have the ability to take their children to needed doctors appointments and other necessary appointments.
“So, we're like a family here, and we try to look out after the adolescents and the teens as if they are our own. So, we talk to them, ‘if there's anything you need, let us know, we will help you.’ So, there could be other issues that come up. So, we try to help them with the local resources that are there,” Sager said.
Sager continued, “We have quite a lot of success stories, too. I mean, when we look back, just the years that we've been here, it's amazing to see what these young teen moms have gone on to do and achieve. So, we're always thrilled when they come back and tell us what they've done or ‘here we are’ and ‘here's what we're doing.’ It's just satisfying to see that we had a small part in that. They went and did all the hard work.”
Sager said in her personal life, she has had one child, but she feels as if she’s had hundreds of children because of how much she cares about the Westminster children, as if they are her own.
Roberts said the relationships built between the kids, the moms and the Westminster staff are important to her.
Roberts said one little girl that she babysat at the center from age two months to 2.5 years old will always stand out in her mind. Roberts said this girl was often quiet and shy.
“…That’s the thing about kids. You're around them, and you're talking, and they're listening to everything you say, everything. So, it's like I told her. I've always done [this] when she was two months old all the way until she’s 2-years-old. I said, ‘you’re a little rabbit’ and I was getting her off the changing table, and she turned around and looked at me and said, ‘You're a rabbit.’ So, I thought that was hilarious, but I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This kid's been listening to me the whole time,’” Roberts said.
Sager and Roberts said one of the main issues is that many people in the Peoria area don’t realize the Westminster Infant Care Center exists, and that the daycare will partner with teen parents and their kids until the kids reach 3 years old.
Sager said the parents pay a small monthly copayment based on their income, usually between $1 and $4 each month for childcare through a childcare subsidy program.
Sager said the center needs more attention from the public to not only draw in more volunteers, but to expand outreach to teen parents.
“Hopefully, someone else will carry that torch because it is such a unique mission and focus in on teen moms and the babies,” Sager said.