By HANNAH SIEVERT
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY
Central Oregon was already in a child care desert, even before the pandemic hit.
Mayor Sally Russell said Bend has lost around 3,000 of 5,000 child care slots that were available before the pandemic because of capacity constraints.
The Redmond-based organization Better Together is trying to help the hundreds of families in Central Oregon whose children will not be returning to the classroom this fall.
They are working with various groups around Central Oregon, such as the Boys and Girls Club, to create full-day and half-day child care programs.
“This particular need is something we’re bringing a new set of tools to, which is around rapid design and rapid prototyping of these pilots,” Anna Higgins, the interim director of Better Together, said.
Right now, there’s nothing tangible the organization’s leaders can tell parents yet, like where those programs will be or what kind of capacity those programs will have.
“While we are still working on the details, many of the providers will be familiar and trusted partners,” Becca Tatum, Better Together’s school-aged child care task force lead, said.
Bend Park and Recreation is one of those familiar providers working with Better Together.
At a Bend Park and Recreation board meeting Tuesday night, Director of Recreation Matt Mercer said they are working on creating a full-day child care program for low-income families this fall.
“Families with no possibilities for adults to be at home to support the distance learning, families that don’t have internet access,” Mercer said.
One of the hardest parts of creating these programs is funding. Mercer said Bend Park and Rec received $50,000 thanks to the CARES Act for the program, but that’s not enough.
“To put that into perspective, that amount of funding might support the first two weeks of the program,” Mercer said. “Might. And that’s if we’re reaching the kind of populations we want to reach.”
They’re looking at other funding options, Mercer said. While there are numerous logistical challenges, Mercer said they’re working on the program almost non-stop.
Registration for the program could be opened as early as Aug. 31.