A childcare solution: Marquette County to expand home-based childcare

Working parents need reliable, affordable childcare — and there are not enough providers to meet demand in Marquette County.

To address that shortage, the Marquette County Childcare Coalition is launching a pilot program this spring to help new home-based childcare providers learn how to start and run a successful business. By late summer, the first crop of graduates may be available to start taking children.

The problem: The coalition, made up of representatives from the community, local government, and nonprofit and economic development organizations, has been convened by the Community Foundation of Marquette County to tackle the shortage of childcare options. They found:

 Too few childcare openings There is a waiting list of up to three years for infant care. The shortage of childcare prevents many parents from returning to work, so employers struggle with employee turnover and difficulty in retaining employees.

Low pay for childcare workers. Many child-care providers, particularly entry-level workers, can’t afford to stay in the profession.

Barriers to professional advancement Fees for the certifications that would allow child-care providers to build their skills can be a significant barrier.

A possible solution: In October 2022, the Marquette County Board of Commissioners approved $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to support the Marquette County Childcare Business Lab Pilot. The program will engage potential home-based childcare providers in a business startup and growth accelerator program. 

The program links existing resources at Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency and Great Start to Quality with Lake Superior Community Partnership to provide both business education and specialized childcare service support to help Marquette County meet the current and future demand for affordable quality childcare. 

The program would be subsidized in part by employers.

Core leaders of the Marquette County Childcare Coalition group.From left: Linda Fowler, Regionerate (project consultant); Zosia Eppensteiner, CEO, Community Foundation of Marquette County; Lyndsay Carey, director of early childhood education, Marquette-Alger RESA; Christopher Germain, CEO, Lake Superior Community Partnership; and Deb Dupras, program director, Great Start to Quality.

Why home-based childcare: Christopher Germain, CEO, Lake Superior Community Partnership, cited three reasons to focus the program on licensed home-based childcare providers: 

— It creates child-care slots across the county, placing them closer to where people live; 
— In-home businesses have a lower start-up cost; 
— In-home businesses provide an opportunity for families to generate additional income using an existing asset: their homes.
What’s next: Coalition members say applications for the program will open in March, and participants should start training in early childhood development and business skills this spring. In addition, existing home-based childcare providers will be hired to mentor the newcomers. 

The program will help providers connect with resources such as grants for home upgrades to meet licensing requirements or compliance with local zoning requirements.

The coalition initially hopes to run two programs each year, perhaps adding sessions as future demand requires. 

Support for the pilot will leverage funding from government, the business community and private philanthropy. The Community Foundation has also established a new fund to support childcare needs in Marquette County.

What people are saying: "The Marquette County Childcare Coalition has made great gains in understanding the childcare needs of the community and creating a pilot that can make an immediate impact then serve as a model to continue to bring about change in the region," says Marquette-Alger RESA Director of Early
Childhood Education Lyndsay Carey. 

The Community Foundation of Marquette County.

The Community Foundation initiated the Marquette County Childcare Endowment Fund to provide long-term support for quality childcare programs in Marquette County. 

Zosia Eppensteiner, CEO, says: “The Community Foundation is taking a proactive step to build sustainable program support for these initiatives through this new endowment fund. In-home childcare providers, day care centers, early childhood education and workforce development are intertwined and form our childcare infrastructure. This fund will allow us to make meaningful investments in charitable programs that help our community address its childcare needs.” 
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