Photo courtesy of Country Manor

Intergenerational programming and day care in senior living and care settings is a win-win situation for children and residents, some providers are discovering.

For one provider, child care has been a mainstay since 1985. 

“It’s an idea that came to fruition to try to alleviate some of the child care concerns for our staff, but it is also open to the community,” Emily Frericks, director of public relations and marketing for Sartell, MN-based Country Manor, told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

The day care center is used equally by the long-term care community’s staff members and members of the greater community, she said. Country Manor cares for approximately 140 children aged six weeks to 11 years. The operator also provides transportation to and from schools in four school districts, Frericks said. The company provides homework assistance and a variety of extracurricular activities, too.

Frericks said that she thinks the day care has helped Country Manor attract and retain long-term care caregivers despite workforce challenges experienced elsewhere. The day care remained open throughout the pandemic, she said, but in-person interaction between the residents and children was eliminated.

Under non-pandemic circumstances, the intergenerational programming would include daily visits from the children to residents in independent living, assisted living, memory care and sub-acute rehabilitation, Frericks said.

Intergenerational interaction is a win-win situation, she said, because the children come to think of the residents as their “Country Manor grandmas and grandpas.” Over the years, Frericks said, children enrolled in Kids Country were able to visit their actual grandparents, who resided there.

Outside of the pandemic, Frericks said, the children read, play games and complete art projects with the residents. Halloween was especially fun, she said, because the children would go trick-or-treating among the communities. A big July 4 intergeneration party always is a hit, too, Frericks said.

Often, though, it is “random instances” of interaction that both generations remember most. For example, she said, watching a group of students might prompt a resident to share personal experiences, and then the school-aged kids learn lessons from history from a generation that is fading away.

“The kids just find that so special, too,” Frericks said. “We hear from parents all the time how blessed they feel to have their kids so acquainted with the senior population.”

Intergenerational programming necessarily changed as the pandemic came, she said. The children no longer were able to engage in in-person visits with the residents. 

Frericks said the community relies on its in-house closed-circuit television channel to share activities.

“We make a lot of videos and photos and we play them on our channel,” she said. “They still get to interact, but in a different way.”

Country Manor has plans to open an additional new community next year in Brainerd, MN, about an hour north of Sartell. Intergenerational care will play a role in that community, too, Frericks said. 

New venture

A hundred or so miles down the road in Mankato, MS, a new child care and memory care community set to open within the next month, Generations Child and Memory Care, aims to span generations.

“The concept is about addressing isolation among older adults with memory issues while familiarizing children to older adults and people with disabilities,” Director Morgan Haman told The Mankato Free Press.

Parker Health Group 

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 miles to the east, Parker Health Group has operated child development centers within its New Jersey communities since the early 2000s. The newly expanded Parker at Somerset is set to open a development center with intergenerational programming later this year. Executives there have found that intergenerational programming is a win-win situation for all involved.

President & CEO Roberto Muñiz told the McKnight’s Business Daily that he is excited about the intergenerational programming Parker offers. It brings joy to the residents to hear the children’s laughter and to feel the touch of their hands, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for children to start connecting with their elders. Their parents are very young, the grandparents are very young,” Muñiz said. “They’ve probably never been able to see a person in a wheelchair or a person with wrinkles. That’s the type of exposure that I want to make sure we create so that children can not be afraid of their elders.

“I just love that idea.”

The second purpose of introducing the day care program, he said, was to give employees the ability to bring their children to work with them. The child development center welcomes children from six months old to kindergarten age.

“We know that after 9/11, people want to keep our children close. They want to know their children are there. They want to know they’re safe and secure,” Chief Operating Officer Beth Sparling told the McKnight’s Business Daily.

Employees have priority for slots in the children’s program at Parker’s Highland Park campus, but others are welcome as well. RIght now, Muñiz said, 55 children are participating, and there is a waiting list.

The pandemic changed things a bit for interactions, but intergenerational programming remained a win-win situation. Rather than in-person visits, they started interacting through glass, sending cards and pictures, and when possible, outdoor visitation. Muñiz said Parker kept the child development center open throughout the pandemic, because “that’s when it was most needed by our employees.”

“They still needed to go to work. They were still fighting the pandemic,” Sparling added.

From a staffing standpoint, Muñiz and Sparling said that, although Parker Health Group has experienced some turnover during the pandemic, the child development program has helped with recruitment and retention. 

Sparling said it helps residents “to have that relationship [with children]. It is really adding to their quality of life.”

The executives have as much fun as the older adults and children, Muñiz and Sparling  The saids they enjoy it when the children come parading around the offices.

The model has been so successful at the Highland Park campus, Sparling said, that it made sense to provide a child development center at the new campus in Somerset. 

“A home is about a community, no matter where you live, “ Sparling said.