GFDA release childcare study; Family Connections launches Childcare Connect Montana

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The Great Falls Development Authority has released its childcare study.

GFDA hired Camoin Associates to assess childcare needs in the Great Falls area and “determine if a new childcare facility (or facilities) could be supported given current and projected demand and existing availability of childcare in the city,” according to the report.

The study considered demographic and socioeconomic trends, existing childcare options and childcare demand based on a survey as well as interviews with those in the childcare arena.

“Overall, the research concluded that there is a severe shortage of childcare capacity within the City of Great Falls and the unmet demand can support the addition of multiple new childcare centers. Existing childcare centers within Great Falls are unable to accommodate the existing demand and as a result, have long waitlists,” according to the report. Local childcare facilities are at capacity and wait times can be up to a year, according to the report.

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The lack of childcare leaves many unable to return to work and some using friends, family and other nontraditional options.

The study found a need for about 580 childcare spots in the city and a strong interest and demand for new childcare facilities.

There was a shortage of childcare facilities and options before COVID-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, according to the report.

The report cites the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Impacts of Child Care on the Montana Workforce, which found 43 percent of licensed childcare providers in Montana closed as an immediate response to COVID.

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Demand for childcare is also expected to increase in the area as the number of children has been trending upward and there’s evidence of a recent birthrate increase, according to the report.

Starting new childcare facilities is challenging, primarily in terms of staffing and funding, according to the report.

In response to the existing childcare challenges, Family Connections, located in Great Falls, and Raise Montana have partnered to launch a substitute staffing service, Childcare Connect Montana.

Childcare Connect Montana seeks to recruit individuals who are passionate about providing child care and education.

“The substitute service is a great option no matter if you are a student, retiree, teacher, caregiver with a child in care or school, former child care professional or anyone who wants to work with children and have flexible hours,” according to Family Connections.

Substitutes don’t need any prior experience in child care and receive a $300 sign-on bonus as compensation for all required training hours. Individuals interested in becoming a child care substitute are invited to text “Sub” to 59925, email or visit to learn more and apply.

“Whether child care employees are sick, need personal time off, go on maternity leave, or want to attend an educational opportunity during work time, often there is no one available to substitute or provide the proper coverage in the classrooms. All too often child care teachers are found coming into work sick, making decisions to forgo time off, and neglecting or overextending themselves,” Charrisse Jennings, Region 5 STARS consultant and professional development specialist at Family Connections said in a release.

The Early Childhood Workforce Index 2020 showcased that the 4,380 individuals in Montana’s early childhood workforce are tasked with caring for and educating Montana’s 74,016 children ages zero to five.

Childcare Connect Montana looks to increase the early care and education workforce by fully training individuals and linking them directly to local child care providers. Paying for new staff to become fully trained is often an expensive and time-consuming barrier for child care programs, according to Family Connections.