Childcare was obviously impacting the workforce, and as the largest business organization in Missoula, the Chamber of Commerce organized the necessary community partners to help address it.
on childcare waiting lists
After recognizing a high demand for childcare in Montana relative to supply, especially for young children, during after-school hours, and in the summer, the Childcare Initiative Committee began to collect data on the topic. Business leaders noted that their parent employees had challenges finding childcare and reported that workers often don’t return to their jobs after having a baby.
Childcare providers indicated that they were not able to meet the strong demand for their services. As many as 1,000 children were estimated to be on childcare waiting lists in the Missoula metro area, which had almost 6,000 children under age 5, according to the American Community Survey. After digging even deeper, the Committee recognized that the lack of affordable childcare was impacting area businesses.
The Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce didn’t realize that it would emerge as a leader in solving the region’s childcare challenges, but they did recognize that they were uniquely positioned to coordinate community and state partners to get the process started. After understanding the challenges faced in the local workforce, the Missoula Chamber surveyed families to get the data they needed to start proposing steps towards solutions.
Instead of selecting a single path forward, the Missoula Chamber and its new partners determined seven different models to explore to expand childcare in the region that could ease the pain local families and businesses were feeling. The Childcare Initiative increased both the public’s and community leaders’ awareness of challenges in the childcare market in Missoula and has helped build significant cross-sector collaboration in the community.
Childcare Demand Survey
In 2018, the Missoula Chamber launched a survey of families to better understand the demand for childcare in the city. The survey asked families about the ages of their children, the time of day they need childcare, and the parts of town where they need it. Local television stations, the local newspaper, and web-based media promoted the survey to help increase the response rate. In addition, operators of the local mall offered to hand-deliver surveys to every tenant and many Chamber members distributed the survey through their contact lists.
Survey results confirmed that parents faced challenges finding affordable, quality childcare. Childcare was the fourth-largest family expense across all respondents, and for families with an infant, childcare was the second-largest expense, only behind housing. 47% of respondents indicated they had scaled back or abandoned their career or expect to do so in response to childcare issues. The survey also reported “significant demand for options that covered nontraditional hours as well as days when schools are not in session.”
Partnerships Were Critical
Leadership at the Chamber relied on a number of potential community and state partners, including:
- Small and large companies interested in helping their parent employees find child care
- Child Care Resources, a local organization that provides child care referral services to parents and professional development, marketing, and other services to providers
- Missoula Early Learning Center Director Mark Roberts
- Cushing Terrell, formerly CTA Architects Engineers
- Montana Department of Labor & Industry
- Montana state childcare licensing
- Missoula County Public Schools