GREAT FALLS — A new report released by the Great Falls Development Authority highlights what the agency says is a need for more childcare in the community.
"What we were trying to do is show that there was market support, market demand,” said Brett Doney, the CEO of the GFDA.
The GFDA solicited public input for the report via a survey several months ago.
The executive summary of the report states:
Overall, the research concluded that there is a severe shortage of childcare capacity within the City of Great Falls and the unmet demand can support the addition of multiple new childcare centers. Existing childcare centers within Great Falls are unable to accommodate the existing demand and as a result, have long waitlists. Findings from stakeholder interviews indicate that the workforce in Great Falls is suffering from a lack of childcare with many workers unable to return to work due to lack of childcare while others are utilizing family, friends, and other nontraditional childcare options to fill their needs while they wait for their spot on the waitlist.
Doney said of the report: "It found that approximately 580 children today need additional childcare slots and we think that's going to grow substantially over the next few years.”
The study can now be used as a guide to help existing childcare facilities expand and can be used to help attract new facilities to the city.
"We're sharing it with the existing center operators. We already have a couple of prospects in building new centers here,” Doney said.
One challenge to having enough childcare is the workforce. According to the study, the childcare industry employees 437 people in Cascade County and employment declined 12% - double the amount in the rest of the state - in 2020 due to COVID-related closures, stay-at-home orders, and health and safety protocols.
Lori Cereck, communications coordinator for Family Connections in Great Falls, said her agency is working with Raise Montana to create a substitute pool to help combat the worker shortage.
"Anyone, even with no experience. We will pay them to get the training they need and then when a provider has an opening, whether somebody calls in sick or is going on vacation or something, they can access the substitute pool,” Cereck explained.
While the pool could certainly help now, it may prove to be even more valuable in the future. According to the study, an estimated 21% of childcare workers are over the age of 55 and may be retiring in the near future.
Click here to visit the Substitute Child Care Staff Service page on the Family Connections site.
Click here to read the complete report (PDF). It also contains a list of all licensed childcare facilities in Great Falls.