Recent headlines announcing an infant death resulting in complications from out-of-parent care tap into every parent’s worst fears. Parents need to work and children need high-quality care. How do we unite the two needs, especially in a time of low availability of licensed child care?

Licensed care provides a safety net to Montana’s families. Licensed providers must meet minimum standards such as having a valid CPR/first aid card, having had a background check and completing ongoing education relating to the care and development of children.

More requirements are needed for larger groups: safety of the building and grounds, liability and fire insurance, staff-to-child ratios and business program management. Licensing gives a family basic assurance that while they are away from their child, the child is nurtured and safe in play or sleep.

Why does high-quality care begin with a licensed provider? Licensing lays the foundation. High-quality child care businesses take additional steps in education, materials, environments, interactions and business practices to give children the foundation for a successful life. Montana’s Best Beginnings Stars to Quality provides the mentored and incentivized path to giving high-quality care.

Why do we want high-quality care for all children? Many decades of research have demonstrated that high-quality early childhood experiences result in good things. Children who have high-quality care are more likely to: be ready for kindergarten, graduate from high school, have good health and good jobs. They are less likely to commit a crime and have lower rates of addiction and mental health disorders.

How do we get more high-quality child care available? Start where you are.

If you currently pay a child care provider who is unlicensed, encourage them to get licensed. Montana has several levels: Family, Friend & Neighbor (FFN), Family (up to six kids), Group (up to 12 kids), and Centre (13 or more kids). Having a licensed provider also allows families to apply for the Best Beginnings Scholarship. Right now, families can even apply for scholarship for school-aged children if they are remote learning and in licensed care.

If you are in a community that is working toward opening more child care options, help make it a reality. Your return on investment is very high: $7-$13 for every $1 invested. Your skills may be used on a board or in bricks and mortar. However you contribute, remember you’re allowing the employees and employers of your town to provide goods and services.

If you are someone interested in opening a child care business, now is a terrific time. There are several grants available for new providers that can help you set up your environment for success. For more information, see familyconnectionsmt.org.

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Heather McCartney-Duty is an Outreach and Consumer Education Specialist with Family Connections, a non-profit organization helping children, families and child care businesses thrive. She may be reached at heatherm@familyconnectionsmt.org or 761-6010.