ENHANCE Summary Report
What is ENHANCE - Essential Child Care Needs COVID-19 and Beyond
Due to COVID-19 school and business closures resulted in cascading effects to families, providers, businesses, and schools, which illuminated the fractured childcare system in Montana that existed before the pandemic. Child care access, affordability and dependability became a central factor in Montana's ability to respond, rebuild and re-open. The graphic below illustrates how child care is linked to resiliency and the below report highlights what ENHANCE learned from conducting a statewide survey:
ENHANCE is a collaborative initiative to address child care and out-of-school time care needs across the state of Montana led by the Montana VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) Childcare Sub Committee in response to COVID-19. The ENHANCE statewide survey was designed to illustrate the complexity of issues related to child care needs to ensure the state’s stability during and post pandemic.
What is in the Enhance Report
The ENHANCE Report includes the results of the ENHANCE survey - a statewide assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on childcare needs across families, care providers, businesses and schools. This was a mixed methods survey design using both quantitative and qualitative questions driven by a robust literature review collected across local, state and national sources. Results and themes from the ENHANCE survey along with highlights from recent reports are presented on this site as interactive data to support advocacy efforts across sectors.
The findings from these efforts highlight how COVID-19 affected child care in Montana and how reinforcing the child care infrastructure is important for a solutions-oriented approach to the state’s socio-economic stability. Explore the full report to learn more about how:
Child care in Montana is not affordable for most and not accessible to all.
Child care business owners and providers would benefit from increased support at the local, state, and national levels.
The child care business model is broken. Quality care is unaffordable for families and the child care workforce wages inadequate.
The child care system would benefit from increased integration, coordination, and collaboration across sectors.
The fractured childcare system is taking a toll on individuals, families, and communities.
ENHANCE has a mission to ensure Montana re-opens by addressing the cascading effects and resources needed to address child care needs across sectors, building sustainable systems and community resilience. In looking at the impact of COVID-19 through the lens of child care, a road map to respond and rebuild our state and nation is made clear - investing in child care infrastructure is critical.
Highlights from the ENHANCE Report
Child care is not affordable for most
Without having a stable child care infrastructure to support families, especially essential worker parents - community and economic resiliency is fragile. Parents are faced with making critical decisions for the safety and wellbeing of their children weighed against the financial stability of their family. These are impossible choices. Without an appreciation of how these challenges relate to one another, families will remain vulnerable and at risk having an unknown long term impact on our state’s workforce and tax revenue potential. Ultimately this affects all Montanans.
Child Care is not accessible for all
The statewide response to close schools and implement shelter - in - place orders had an impact on parents with children, particularly those who are essential workers. Not only did these parents have to design solutions to meet the needs of their children, those solutions were needed immediately in order to be able to work and support essential services. Under normal circumstances after school programs, summer camps and day-care facilities can surge capacity but in light of the nature of COVID-19 these options may not be practical or safe, per national and state guidelines. Parents had to make tough choices about leaving children home either without supervision or relying on family members, friends or paying for childcare.
Child care business owners and child care providers lack supports at the local, state, and national levels
Child care is not typically categorized as a "business" yet providing child care professionally is a business and child care businesses are uniquely impacted by COVID-19. Capacity restrictions, added sterility, safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) supply costs, fluctuating and increased demands have all contributed to challenges faced by providers. COVID-19 CARES Act Relief Funds covered 100% of the Best Beginning Scholarship, a federally funded and state distributed program for low-income families. Relief included copayments for families for the months of March, April, and May 2020 and reimbursing providers at 100% of the authorized amount of care for those same months regardless of attendance. As of July 2020 Montana had distributed $1,419,479 in Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship support.
However, the Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship only reaches about 25% of eligible families. Additionally, COVID-19 CARES Act Relief Funds supported licensed child care providers in Montana, by distributing grants totaling between $3,000 and $26,500 based on size of program to 818 providers.
ENHANCE’s advocacy work contributed to an additional $50M of block grant funding to be allocated for Child Care in the below ways:
$30 million in grants to maintain and expand child care for school-age children during out of school time.
$10 million for families with special circumstances requiring in-home care.
$8 million for supplemental payments to all licensed and registered childcare facilities to maintain and expand child care slots.
$2 million for CCR&R agencies for administration and outreach.
COVID-19 highlighted how the historically limited investment in child care as a common - public good correlated with our collective ability to respond and our limitations to meet the demand. It required a significant amount of advocacy and reliance on aid funding to ensure at least in the immediate response to COVID-19 child care services would be available.
Child care businesses are unstable - a product of market failure
In order for child care programs to be financially sustainable they must live by what is called the Iron Triangle, they must strive for full enrollment every day, collect tuition on time and in full, and match annual revenue to expenses. Since the pandemic, nearly every child care program in Montana has had at least one, if not all three, of these elements at risk. Providers operate with thin margins and even one month of missed income, or an unexpected decrease in enrollment can be catastrophic.
With CARES Act Funding ending at the close of this year child care businesses are at risk as reduced enrollment and attendance combined with temporary closures costs is not a viable nor financially stable outcome for this industry. Even one temporary closure could result in permanent closure for these small businesses.
As our state looks to make decisions about economic recovery, our success depends on including child care as a critical component of our plans to meet the changing needs of children, families, and employers.
The child care system is disconnected
In a typical disaster (Flood, Hurricane or Earthquake) schools provide acute shelter but longer term services are supported by churches, charities (ie Red Cross, United Way). As COVID-19 is not a typical disaster (e.g. there is not a defined and predictable term or duration, boundary of affected area, or population affected) the typical disaster responses do not match the need. Further, there is a lack of coordination between child care providers, families, employers, schools, and agencies providing health crisis support services.
There is an opportunity for schools to play a critical role in collaborating with providers in their community to support child care needs. Communication of school plans and services will be critical as plans remain unpredictable leading into flu season on top of the pandemic and resurgence of outbreaks. Creative solutions and coordination of services will be critical for schools to recover financially even with government subsidies.
Businesses can play a major role in improving affordability and access to child care for their workforce. This can not only reinforce the entire child care infrastructure but can be a successful retention strategy to attract young families to Montana, overall boosting our economic stability.
The “Work” in Working From Home
Many businesses maintained employment during COVID-19 by pivoting operations for employees to work from home. For employees with children the ability to efficiently and effectively work from home is compounded by childcare responsibilities and with ‘20-’21 school year plans including virtual learning parents struggle to maintain these conflicting obligations.
One Business respondent stated:
“Increased demand for our services, staff that do not have childcare or school, now have to be at home AND be education teachers for their kids, while also being employees. Not sustainable"
One parent respondent stated:
“At some point one of us will likely have to opt out of the workforce. We cannot effectively homeschool our children while trying to work full time. Neither of us would like to stop working but may be forced to without enriching and educational activities for our children."
It is in the best interest of employers to be proactive in identifying child care needs of their employees and be innovative in their approach to providing sick leave, flexible schedules, telework options, and other solutions to best meet the needs of businesses, employees, and families. Businesses can collaborate with community organizations and work with school districts to support creative solutions such as co-op child care partnerships, work-family balance policies, on-site child care, flexible scheduling arrangements, and connecting employees with community resources.
The fractured childcare system is taking its toll
Stress in the home due to COVID-19 is compounded by increased anxiety, economic distress, mental illness, addiction, and abuse. These stressors amongst others are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and they have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. ACE prevention and intervention are critical to the overall wellbeing of our communities.
CDC recommendations for preventing ACEs align with solutions that address the cascading effects of COVID-19 on child care.
Call to Action
Investing in child care is investing in Montana
Child care businesses and the child care system is on the brink of collapse. This is not new, instead, it has been on the brink for some time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated these intersecting factors and cascading effects.
Historically, child care and the work of child care providers has been undervalued. Child care should be considered an essential service and an essential local business. There is a need for financial and business support for child care providers so that they can compete and be sustainable in the economic market.
These results demonstrate the need for workplace support and family friendly policies to support the diverse needs of families and communities such as flexible schedules, telework, alternative schedules, and paid leave.
Child care providers and families cannot fund childcare alone. Financial support from local, state and federal sources is essential as the system cannot sustain itself. Investment in child care will have significant long term health and economic impacts for families, child care providers, and communities for generations.