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Missoula Chamber launches survey to address child care problems

The Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce is looking to fix child care problems. They say the lack of availability and affordability are two things employers are struggling with when trying to recruit talent.

Caitlin Stainken is a sales manager at Missoula tech company Submittable. She’s also mother to a 2-year-old and is expecting another in February. She says the company is understanding, offers a great maternity plan and a flex period to ease back into work.

"(My daughter) slept under my desk a few days. She would be with me a lot. They set up a special room for me to nurse in -- that way I had a place to be with her when she was in the office," said Stainken.

Though she was fortunate to work for a flexible company, she and her husband still struggled to find child care in Missoula. Day cares wait-listed their daughter, Jeannette, until she was 18 months -old. Then she finally got into an in-home day care, but Stainken said it didn’t work out, so they hired a nanny until she quit.

"So Jeanette had just kind of been bouncing around through these different child care scenarios, and that's when my husband decided to take a year off, because there really was not any other option," said Stainken.

That’s a problem the Missoula Chamber is seeing across the city, and they’ve launched a survey to try to address it.

"We're trying to collect data on what kinds of child care people need, where they need it, how much they are willing to pay or are currently paying. Basically, we're trying to learn as much as we can about what child care needs Missoula has," said Clint Burson, director of government affairs and communication with the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Montana Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit research company, found the average cost of care for a 4-year-old in Montana is $7,900 per year, while care for a baby costs $9,000 per year.

In 2015, GOBankingRates, a personal finance company, named Montana as the fifth most expensive place to raise a family, because it has one of the lowest median incomes in the nation yet child care rates remain above average.

The U.S. Census Bureau says between 2012 and 2016 the median household income in Montana was $48,380. With childcare at $9,000, that means a fifth of the household income is going to child care.

In Missoula, there isn’t any concrete data collected yet, but Burson says many child care facilities cost around $800 per month, making the annual cost even higher, at $9,600 for just one child.

"The thing that we kept hearing was people are leaving work and not coming back when they have kids. They can't find child care, they can't afford child care, or the child care that they can afford wasn't something they were willing to put their kids in," said Burson.

The Missoula Chamber has six models for possible solutions depending on the results of the survey:

  1. Expanded child care facility that could care for 220 kids.
  2. Employer-based facility where the company hosts and funds a childcare facility for just their employees.
  3. Employer partnership facility - Where multiple employers come together to fund a center for the kids of their employees.
  4. Use of an empty Missoula Public Schools building as a site for a child care facility.
  5. Inclusion as part of planned development - Where a developer creating a community includes a child care facility within their project.
  6. Child care facility located within a shopping mall - central location that has easy access and would benefit the mall by bringing parents into the building.

“We're at different stages of conversation/investigation with all of these. Some we've looked at pretty deeply. Others we're just starting to discuss with partners. In the end, it's likely going to take a combination of all of these (and maybe more) to meet what we believe the needs are in the community,” said Burson.

Stainken’s employer, Submittable, is looking into doing the second option -- providing an on-site child care facility for their employees.

"What that means is that Submittable employees -- we want them to come back. We hire really great people, and they're tough to replace," said Stainken.

She said the company employs 70 people, and after conducting a survey they expect 31 of their workers to have babies within the next two years. They see adding a day care as a good way for retention but also as a great tool for recruitment as the company looks to expand.

Submittable has the licenses to move forward with a daycare in the Florence building where the company is located, but they still haven’t hashed out the fine details about funding -- if the employee or employer would pay.

For the rest of the Missoula workforce, the Chamber of Commerce wants to know your child care needs. You can take the survey by following this link.

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