Subsidies help increase child care options


Finding daycare in the Flathead Valley can be stressful for parents, as the lack of spaces leads to long waiting lists. At the same time, business leaders face their own challenges, as employees miss work due to loopholes in the system and are often unable to recruit untapped workers who cannot get childcare. children.

To help find a solution, two Kalispell businesses have received US bailout grants that will allow for the expansion of a daycare center and the addition of a new centre.

The Birds Nest has received $1 million, which will allow it to build a new facility that will more than double its current capacity. While Immanuel Lutheran Communities received nearly $900,000 to create a new facility.

“This is something we really need in the Valley – more quality child care,” says Corrine Kuntz, owner and founder of Birds Nest, which opened the early learning center in 2014 after finding a shortage of childcare services when she sought childcare for her two children.

The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce has launched a new initiative this winter to take up the challenge of finding ways to improve childcare in the area – looking for ways to create additional places for children and finding ways to ensure adequate wages for quality employees working in child care services. . According to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, there are 1,665 licensed child care spaces in Flathead County, which accounts for only 28 percent of children up to age 5.

“The lack of labor continues to be the number one priority for our members and child care plays a big part in this crisis. If our initiative has played any part in bringing stakeholders together and finding solutions, we are delighted,” said Lorraine Clarno, President and CEO of Kalispell Chamber. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we want to thank and celebrate both The Birds Nest and Immanuel Lutheran Communities for their leadership in bringing more accessible, quality and affordable childcare to our community. .”

In 2011, the chamber embarked on a review of the childcare situation with a four-month study that culminated in the plan released that year. Action teams have been working on solutions and the chamber says 500 childcare openings have been identified and it expects to go live in the next year to 16 months.

The lack of providers isn’t just impacting families looking for child care, it’s also impacting businesses trying to hire and retain employees.

In a chamber survey sent to Flathead Valley businesses, nearly all 197 respondents reported child care issues. According to a survey by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, caring for children or aging parents is the third most common reason workers leave the workforce.

THE BIRDS NEST has expanded several times since its inception, at one point doubling its capacity. It now serves about 55 students, but still has a waiting list of about 150 more children, 75% of whom are infants.

Kuntz says she’s excited for a long-term goal she started seven years ago to finally become a reality. Funding is now lined up, along with plans to open a new facility in the fall of 2023. Not having to fund these two huge costs – the new school and salaries leading up to the opening – will help the costs of to stay lower and higher salaries for staff, while providing scholarships to families, notes Kuntz.

“We grew rapidly, but it was always planned,” Kuntz said. “We have always worked very hard to hire quality staff and we want to continue to attract and retain better teachers and make sure they know they are supported and valued.”

In the new facility, The Birds Nest expects to accommodate approximately 120 children under one roof, which the center currently lacks as it is scattered across multiple buildings. Kuntz says the plan is to gradually add spaces in the center to ensure quality care.

“There’s a lot of relief that comes with the extra funding,” she said. “The bottom line is that we will be able to pay staff with higher salaries and hopefully provide scholarships for our families to get high quality care.”

FOR several years, Immanuel Lutheran has discussed options for opening daycare, said Jason Cronk, president and CEO of communities that provide residential and assisted adult care.

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right time to do it,” Cronk said. “It matches the needs of the community and businesses need to have more quality child care.”

The funds will help Immanuel Lutheran transform a space into a new early learning center named Growing Roots Early Learning Center. The center is expected to accommodate approximately 74 children, from infants to kindergartens, providing care to Immanuel Lutheran employees, but also community members.

Although the center is expected to officially open in 2023, Cronk said Immanuel Lutheran is also looking at options that could allow him to open smaller facilities sooner.

As a business, Cronk says Immanuel Lutheran has had times when hiring has become a challenge due to a lack of child care.

“Sometimes this contributes to an employee’s decision to stay home and not join the workforce,” he said. “But if we have our own reliable service, it can help attract staff to come here.”

Managing Editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or [email protected]







Comments are closed.