Early Childhood Partnership Supports Childcare Providers in Custer Co.

CUSTER COUNTY—Prioritizing high quality early childhood education is the focus of the Custer County Early Childhood Partnership. The group is the result of individuals coming together following a survey distributed in November 2019 by the Leadership Custer County class.

Coordinator Heather Schmidt said the partnership aims to support local childcare providers and emphasize the importance of early education.

“We really want to provide support to licensed and unlicensed childcare providers who are already working and we also want to educate families about what high quality childcare education looks like. We really want to work to find some creative solutions to address the lack of availability of high quality childcare and this is where the feedback and the community support is going to be really important,” Schmidt said.

Photo: Custer County Early Childhood Partnership Facebook page

In an interview with KCNI/KBBN earlier this month, Schmidt said the partnership wants to open lines of communication in order to support current childcare providers, licenced and unlicenced, families, and in turn, the entire community.

“We know that in order for our community to thrive and grow our families need access to high quality childcare options. We want to be able to hire the best people for our businesses and we want to expand and create new business. Childcare is a key factor that families look at when they are deciding to move to a community,” Schmidt said.

Results from last fall’s survey saw an “amazing community response” according to Schmidt and provided some valuable feedback. Here are some of the results:

· 68% of families who answered need full time childcare
· Why is childcare so difficult to access? 88% respondents said it is due to overall lack of availability
· 52% of childcare providers said they have had to turn families away
· 65% of respondents said cost is a factor
· 62% said it is an overall lack of quality
· 44% said it is difficult to find childcare for the shift they work
· 66% of employers reported that lack of childcare caused employees to be tardy, miss work, or be distracted at work
· 54% of employers reported that childcare availability affected their ability to obtain/retain employees

“The results of this survey are really going to help shape our goals, drive how we will engage the community, and what programs or initiatives are created. Childcare isn’t just a problem for parents to solve, or a problem for employers, it really takes the community to solve, and it definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all for each community,” Schmidt continued.

The Custer County Early Childhood Partnership wants to hear thoughts from community members, have conversations, and change the above statistics and help the community grow.

A Facebook page has been created to serve as a platform to engage members of the community. To support childcare providers during COVID-19, the partnership sent out gift cards last month to all the identified licensed and non-licensed providers they could find in Custer County.

An interview with Heather Schmidt aired on KCNI’s Public Affairs Program last week and a meeting was held on June 10 for childcare providers to have a voice on how to develop programs and initiatives to support them in providing high quality childcare.

If you missed the meeting but want to share your thoughts, reach out to the Custer County Early Childhood Partnership via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/custercountyearlychildhoodpartnership/ or contact at Heather Schmidt at schmidthjo@gmail.com and 308-870-4889.

“We are still working to find more providers, so if you are unlicensed please reach out to us, we want to support you,” Schmidt added.