These Childcare Providers Are Stepping Up For Essential Workers In Montana
The week of March 15, Montana governor Steve Bullock ordered that schools close across the state, sending more than 160,000 children home for an indefinite period of time. Daycare centers followed suit, leaving parents across the state with rapidly disappearing options for childcare.
I watched my friends with children grapple with this tough situation, as many tried to continue working remotely full-time, and social distancing measures cut them off from other support systems like grandparents and play-dates at each other’s houses. For those whose kids were older and could entertain themselves or help care for their siblings, the circumstances caused less stress. But what about essential workers? Or parents who needed to keep working remotely for a paycheck, or single parents with even less support for child care?
It turns out that Montana is home to a new model of small in-home childcare programs that are stepping up in this time of need. Called MyVillage, its network of providers has seen an increase in interest from families needing care as schools and large daycare centers close. While a few providers opted to close due to immunocompromised family members or other risk factors, “the vast majority of our providers are driven to want to serve their local neighborhoods and communities,” said Erica Mackey, MyVillage co-founder, and CEO, noting that all providers follow strict CDC guidelines around whether to stay open. “They acted as micro-communities even before this instance, and this situation has heightened it. Most still want to continue figuring out pathways to taking displaced essential workers’ kids.”
And these unprecedented circumstances—as many parents are introduced to the small in-home care model who might not otherwise have considered it—may mean a long-term shift to more appreciation and demand for such programs, Mackey says.
Mackey founded MyVillage in Bozeman, MT, in response to the widespread problem of the lack of affordable, quality, or—most frustratingly—available childcare. In 2018, Center for American Progress reported that 51% of families live in child care deserts, defined as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. In Montana, 60% of the population lives in a child care desert.
A major driver of the deserts is that the 900,000 person-strong child care workforce sees a 30% annual turnover. The high churn is due to such systemic problems as the fact that many providers start out on some sort of government assistance and then make less than $12/hour on average for childcare, in addition to not being treated as professionals, feeling isolation without a peer group and lack of upward mobility or a career track.
MyVillage, with an arm in Colorado as well, addresses these systemic issues with a model that creates a network of high-quality in-home child care. It essentially empowers child care providers as small business owners with the accompanying infrastructure, which in turn solves pain points for both parents and caretakers.
In our current circumstances with COVID-19 precautionary measures, these in-home care situations can meet the mandate for keeping participant numbers under ten kids, which also allows for increased supervision with sanitation, social distancing among children and added emotional support for children (and their parents) in times of stress and uncertainty.
Bozeman resident Katelynn Lombard has been a MyVillage provider out of her own home since January, with two years of experience at another in-home care center before that, all informed by a degree in early childhood education. She’s currently caring for four children of parents who are essential workers: nurses and software engineers who are enabling the door-to-door delivery services keeping small businesses open and the internet and cell phone connections that keep people working remotely and in touch with their families and communities during social distancing.
She says she struggled at first with the decision to stay open. “But at the end of the day, I decided that these people are helping our community on a regular basis, even when things like coronavirus aren’t happening,” Lombard said. “I finally have an opportunity to help them back in some sort of way.”
Lombard is very careful with staying abreast of her participating families and their health conditions. She’s also as vigilant as possible with her charges on hand sanitizing, hand washing and social distancing. “I have activities and centers open that they can do on their own. Then we’ll do group activities like playing with the parachute or dancing, things we can do together but have that space in between us.”
Her background in early childhood education also helps in communicating around the crisis to young children. “My experience has given me the foundation I need to communicate to them at their level that there are germs out there hurting people, and that’s why we’re doing activities on cleanliness and handwashing properly,” she said. “I can help them go through their day and be thoughtful about what they’re doing.”
“Early childhood educators are on the front lines as first responders to the pandemic right now,” said Mackey.
In Montana, that couldn’t be more appreciated by those that need childcare to do their jobs—and by all of us who need essential workers right now.