Millions of dollars are available right now to help shrink the childcare shortage problem in Central Oregon. It’s through NeighborImpact’s Child Care Expansion Project.
They are grants helping to grant the wishes of more than 1,000 parents left with no help and, too often, no choice but to quit their job and stay home.
The effort is two-pronged — encourage more people to open up in-home daycares and help established childcare centers expand into bigger spaces. But it’s not going to happen without community collaboration.
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Samantha Andersen opened up Patient Bear Daycare Back in September, giving families in Redmond a resource that’s far too rare.
“It’s been great. I love it,” Samantha said.
The High Desert is dealing with a childcare drought. For every three kids who need a slot, only one is lucky enough to get it.
76% of Central Oregon employers noted a lack of childcare as either a high or moderate barrier to hiring. — Bend Chamber of Commerce survey
As a mom with two kids of her own and a degree in family and human services, Samantha knew she could be a part of the solution.
NeighborImpact’s Child Care Resources wing launched a pilot program back in 2021, helping prospective providers like Samantha break into the industry, giving them tools and money.
“I was asking for an open door and they showed up and gave me one,” Samantha said.
As a part of this trial run, Samantha was awarded a $5,000 grant to get going.
Millions of dollars available
The pilot’s success is part of the reason the state granted NeighborImpact millions more dollars to expand the project.
“A little bit more than $8.2 million,” Hannah Kuehl, the Associate Director of Grants Management for Child Care Resources, said. “We do think this will make a very large difference (with the 3-to-1 ratio).”
Hannah says that $8.2 million will translate to an additional 1,400 childcare spots over two to three years.
“We should see results pretty immediately,” Hannah said.
Here’s game plan: Offer education and money to encourage people like Samantha to open in-home care and help established centers expand to shorten wait lists all while trying to tackle the turnover problem.
We asked Samantha if this is something she’ll keep doing once her kids are grown.
“I think it’s something I really want to do, like it’s, it’s, I feel like I’ve been called to do it for a long time,” Samantha said.
Space needed, but hard to find
One of the biggest barriers is space, particularly commercial. There’s simply not enough of it.
“We’re working with real estate agents, we’re working with county commissioners, we’re trying to find space for these providers and we would encourage the community to support this,” Hannah said.
Sharon Richardson, the director of Sprouts Montessori in Bend, knows that barrier intimately. She’s been searching for a commercial space to combine her three in-home locations since 2019. It’s been like a needle in a haystack.
Even when a potential site does pop up, she’s getting passed over — over and over.
“I don’t, at this time, have those funds to go and find the facility, that $100,000 in reserves that these commercial landlords are wanting and then to put all that money towards all the renovation,” Sharon said.
Hannah says part of the grant is helping educate childcare providers about loans. If someone finds a place, they can use the NeighborImpact grant money to help pay for it. But they have to go through the application process, get accepted and complete the educational components.
For Sharon, as a full-time daycare director and single mother, she’s feeling defeated. She is opting out of this grant because she’s tired of finding an option and then getting turned down.
But what’s possible with her expansion is significant.
“I have eight people on staff and with these same eight people I could easily expand if I had the space — double my capacity,” Sharon said.
‘Desperate for care’
There are 200 people on Sharon’s wait list.
“People call me every single day. Some people call me as soon as they find out they’re pregnant,” Sharon said.
The three most-prominent obstacles for families getting childcare in Central Oregon are the costs, wait lists and lack of options for infants and toddlers. — Early Learning Hub
Both Sharon and Samantha say the most severe shortage is with the smallest babies.
“There are so many families who are just desperate for care” Sharon said.
A single caretaker can only have two kids under age two at one time.
“I’ve turned away and like try to wait list at least like four or five. It’s mostly because they have infants,” said Samantha.
New parents with no options.
“We don’t have enough persons in the industry,” Hannah said.
That’s what this grant effort is trying to change. $5,000 to $500,000 available to water places similar to Sprouts and help end the drought.
The childcare desert doesn’t just impact Central Oregon families, it’s having a direct impact on the economy.
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study found states, on average, miss out on $1 billion of economic activity a year because of childcare shortages.
And it plays a huge role in staffing. That same study found 58% of parents left the workforce because they couldn’t get the care they needed.