A county government proposal using federal funding would provide more support to at-home child care facilities and providers in Door County.

The county Health and Human Services department (HHS) has proposed using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to assist United Way of Door County in addressing child care challenges.

The county received $5.4 million in ARPA funding, of which the County Board allocated $1.2 million to health and human services initiatives. Originally the county proposed to use $438,500 to assist United Way, but it reduced it to $347,000 because United Way received a Wisconsin Innovation Grant which supported additional funding for its child care community coordinator position.

The county’s health and human services and finance committees approved the proposal within the past two weeks. The County Board will vote on it Tuesday.

“Child care is a crisis point in our community,” said Cori McFarlane, the HHS deputy director. “There is a huge lack of available child care and affordable quality child care.”

Providing more options

According to an outline of the proposal presented at the county finance committee’s January meeting, Door County has approximately 800 children under 4 years old and only 243 slots in registered and accredited child care centers.

This leaves a gap of 557 children, or about 70 percent, with no regulated child care options. That figure is higher than the Wisconsin and national percentages of 40.6 and 31 percent, respectively. 

According to the proposal outline, United Way’s child care task force will focus on recruitment, training and retention strategies, resources for home-based providers, and ways to stabilize the child care system.

“By expanding supply we hope to improve the situation for all the families that need care,” McFarlane said, “and to help all of our children enter school ready to learn and have that solid foundation right from the start.”

Child care is not only the backbone of the county’s economy, but also is providing care to children in their most formative years, said Jess Holland, child care community coordinator for United Way. Door County needs a more stable system so the child care profession does not suffer from high turnover, Holland said.

Support for home-based providers

In addition to partial funding for the child care community coordinator position, the proposal includes grants to support and educate home-based providers, as well as funding events to create a network of child care providers in the community.

The proposed grants are focused on funding startup and expansion costs for home-based centers, such as licensing and material costs, as well as professional development and training for providers.

Although unregulated home child care providers are integral to the network of child care in the county, there are benefits for these providers to become accredited.

“There are a lot of child care providers doing child care informally, so they’re not certified or licensed, and not to say that that’s not high quality care,” McFarlane said. “We can increase the quality by providing some additional training, some incentives for them to enhance their services.” That support could include educational materials, educational toys or supplemental training, McFarlane said.

Parents as well as at-home child care providers would also benefit from a shared network of providers allowing them to share information and resources, Holland said.

Becoming accredited also can open doors for providers to receive additional support, such as subsidy payments through a state program called Wisconsin Cares, McFarlane said. Those subsidies can make child care more affordable for families by offsetting part of the cost.

Accredited providers also legally can have more children under their care, Holland said. Unaccredited child care providers only can have three or fewer children that are not their own in their care.

Accredited providers also can receive support such as policy examples, help accessing state funds and more formal training programs through the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association.

Expanding the field

The county proposal also includes grants for training and professional development for individuals interested in entering the field as well as continuing education for existing providers.

The county has highlighted some different training programs that could be funded, including professional development for individual providers or groups of providers.

The county proposal also includes plans to incentivize area students to pursue early childhood education and to explore the potential to create an early childhood education training program for Door County.

“We are ahead of so many other communities even though it still is dire,” Holland said. “I’m grateful for the work that’s been put in, between the United Way and Door County Department of Health and Human Services and the (Door County) Economic Development Corporation and everyone that was on all of the task force committees.”

McFarlane agreed.

“Lots of other communities have child care issues as well, but they don’t necessarily have all of the community partners coming together and being willing to tackle it like we’ve seen here,” McFarlane said. “I’m really excited to see the employment community to be getting behind it, as well, because that is what it’s going to take to make it work.”