HELENA — Lt. Governor Kristen Juras and Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) visited the Florence Crittenton Preschool on Friday, May 7th to celebrate Child Care Provider Appreciation Day and recognize child care providers around the state for contributions to the state’s economy and for their efforts to support Montana’s working families.
“Montana child care businesses are essential to a strong workforce and economy, and in providing quality child care experiences for youth,” says DPHHS Director Adam Meier. “COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the child care industry. However, to their credit, during the pandemic child care businesses quickly responded to the emergency needs of families while adapting their business models to assure safety of their staff, the children and families in their care.”
Meier said that licensed and registered Montana child care businesses, including small home environments and large centers, serve 16,000 children across the state. Currently, about 1,000 early childhood businesses across Montana employ 5,000 child care providers.
Florence Crittenton Early Childhood Program Manager, Sarah Mitchell, said it’s meaningful to recognize our early childhood educators in Montana and their dedication to guiding and supporting the learning of young children on a daily basis.
“We value the importance in providing a nurturing, stimulating environment for each child that attends our early childhood programs,” said Mitchell. “We know that quality early childhood care and education have a two-fold benefit to our communities, to support the workforce, and to help our children enter their school years ready to learn and engage in their education. Our teachers work extremely hard to ensure children feel safe and develop a love of learning early in life.”
Helena’s ABC Preschool owner, Tasha Van Nice, appreciates the support from the State of Montana during the past year.
“I’m so thankful for all the support from the State of Montana over the past year. My business would not have made it without that assistance,” said Van Nice. “To be able to provide a service to the community, while being able to work with children on a daily basis to help them grow and learn is so rewarding.”
As with nearly all businesses in Montana, the pandemic forced providers to adapt. Depending on the child care program, changes included the number of children allowed in classrooms, protecting vulnerable staff, increased personal protective equipment and cleaning practices, drop off and pick up was revised to mitigate potential risk of the virus, and food service processes were improved for safety.
To assist, DPHHS said in a press release, they administered grant programs and provided supplemental payments to just under 900 child care businesses. Grants were also issued to parents who needed to work but had to keep their children home due to special circumstances, according to Early Childhood and Family Support Division Administrator, Jamie Palagi.
Palagi said some challenges remain that existed even before the pandemic. In larger communities, there is a 35.8% supply gap, meaning there is more demand than available child care, and in smaller communities, there is 68.4% supply gap.
“The good news is that many people are recognizing that child care is a critical infrastructure piece to supporting employers and the economy,” Palagi said. “Child care businesses are the bridge that allows so many parents to have their children in a safe environment while they are at work. This is especially important as Montana starts to open back up, and people are able to return to their previous work locations.”
Palagi said it’s also important for parents to know what resources are available to find quality child care. She noted that Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies provide referral services to families seeking child care. This includes providing families with information regarding:
- Child care openings
- Location of care
- Special circumstance information, such as does the provider offer extended hour service or does he/she serve infants and toddlers.
Referral services are provided by the Child Care Resource and Referral agency in each of seven regions in the state. For more information, contact your local CCR&R.
Montanans researching quality childcare can also go to Choosing Quality Child Care.