CHILD CARE RESOURCES FOR KALISPELL AND MONTANA’S FLATHEAD VALLEY
Here at the Discover Kalispell Chamber, we recently launched a Child Care Initiative (more background on that can be found below). Our sweet mountain town of Kalispell is a beautiful place to raise a family, with many people choosing to make their home in the heart of the Flathead Valley. While the cost of living continues to rise, in many families both parents have to work outside the home and need to pay for outside child care. For many working parents, child care is a significant expense…but child care providers are essential to Kalispell, our residents, our local economy and the children they are helping to care for and educate. At the Discover Kalispell Chamber, we’re leading the charge in shifting the way child care is viewed – it’s early childhood education, and that education is vital. Individuals who work as child care professionals impact every other career in northwest Montana, as they give parents who work outside the home the peace of mind that their children are learning, growing and safe.
As part of the Child Care Initiative, here are some of the key elements we’re focusing on:
- -Growing awareness and interest in child care as a professional career
- -Exploring home-based child care options
- -Employer-supported child care
- -Where to find child care in Kalispell
- -Part-time care versus full-time care
The NWMT Job & Opportunity Fair took place on April 6, 2023. A joint effort between Job Service Kalispell, Discover Kalispell Chamber, Flathead Valley Community College and the Daily Inter Lake, this year’s event will welcome more than 100 employers, with juniors and seniors from various northwest Montana high schools attending. As part of the job and opportunity fair, there were 10+ employers with child care career paths and opportunities attending. In addition, the Discover Kalispell Chamber was present to share more information about the tools we are developing around employer-support child care.
In December 2021, the Discover Kalispell Chamber completed a five-month Child Care Study and Action Plan. This study was the results of feedback from parents around their ongoing struggle to find affordable, quality child care. Additionally, child care centers reported reduced capacity due to worker shortages, while employers shared that they had difficulty filling jobs due to a lack of child care options for employees. While these same struggles, issues and obstacles are found throughout the country, the in January of 2022, the Discover Kalispell Chamber formed four action teams to help address the need for quality child care in Kalispell. The teams include Outreach & Advocacy, Facilities, Home Child Care and Scholarships for Early Education Studies.
As part of the process, we opened engagement and participation to our full membership and community, as well as adding an additional 25 interested and engaged members. Highlights of the Action Team’s successes include, but aren’t limited to:
- -Advocated for changes in regulations that prevented faith-based child care sites from leasing to private operators and allowing their clients (families) that were income eligible be allowed to accept state dollars so operator’s business plans would pencil.
- -Reviewed the existing information and processes used by our Nurturing Center that are responsible for licensing 6 and 12 seat Home Child Care operations. Developed infographics to simplify steps and resources for those considering this route, as well as initiated the idea for our Nurturing Center to identify pre-covid operators and entice them back into operation.
- -Discovered that while scholarships are more than plentiful and easily accessible, students are not enrolling in certification programs, two-year early ed degree or four-year degree programs. As a result, we pivoted that Action Team’s role to talent pipeline development and worked with our work-based learning initiative and Workforce Flathead partners to find ways to identify middle school and high school students who have a passion for children to educate them about the various opportunities for a career in child care. Additional efforts included creating an early education career video and connecting Flathead Valley Community College more directly with our SD 5 and other local middle and high schools to talk curriculum development and more.
- -Our Facilities team set a goal to identify ways to increase capacity by 300 openings in child care facilities over two years.
- School District 5. Creating a capacity for 90 children of their employees in two centers within their two high schools. They are currently licensed and staffed for 25 and will be at 45 by September 2023. This opens up access to other opportunities with other providers in the Flathead Valley.
- Immanuel Lutheran Communities. Steering committee member and large employer in the valley received $800,000+ state ARPA grant to remodel a facility and open a center for their employees’ families. They are open in a temporary facility as of September 2022 with a full-time director, three staff and 27 children. In 2023, their facility will have a capacity for 75 and will be open Monday – Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- The Bird’s Nest. Steering committee member and local operator Corrinne Kuntz was awarded $1 million of state ARPA monies to build a second facility with a capacity of 90 children. Land is purchased and architectural drawings are moving through the city’s expedited permitting process, with a planned opening date of September 2023.
- In both Immanuel and The Bird’s Nest’s cases, the Discover Kalispel Chamber’s initiative and demonstrated commitment to addressing this crisis were sited as reasons for full grant support awards.
- In total, the Facilities team has over 500 childcare open seats identified that will come online in the next two years.