Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras visited the Florence Crittenton Preschool on Friday to honor child care providers statewide for supporting Montana’s working families and for their contributions to the state’s economy.
The visit by Juras, who was joined at the event by the Department of Public Health and Human Services, was part of a celebration of Child Care Provider Appreciation Day.
DPHHS Director Adam Meier said licensed and registered Montana child care businesses, including home-based and large centers, serve 16,000 children statewide. He said about 1,000 early childhood businesses across Montana employ 5,000 workers.
"COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the child care industry," he said in a news release. "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.”
This included limits on 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 was improved for safety.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) 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.
Meier said in a news release that Montana’s child care businesses are essential to a strong workforce and economy and in providing quality child care experiences for youth. He said child care providers responded quickly during the pandemic to the needs of families while adapting to ensure safety of their staff and children.
Florence Crittenton Early Childhood Program Manager Sarah Mitchell said quality early childhood care and education have a twofold benefit to communities: to support the workforce, and to help our children enter their school years ready to learn.
“Our teachers work extremely hard to ensure children feel safe and develop a love of learning early in life,” she said. Florence Crittenton’s Preschool is a licensed program that serves children ages 2-4 and is open to all families in the Helena community.
Helena’s ABC Preschool owner Tasha Van Nice said she appreciates the support from the state during the past year.
“My business would not have made it without that assistance,” she said.
Early Childhood and Family Support Division Administrator Jamie Palagi said some challenges remain that existed 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.
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.