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Baby Promise to fund providers to open more child care slots for children ages birth through 3

STOCK PHOTO - Child care providers have been closing throughout Central Oregon the past few years.

NeighborImpact is hoping that the launch of a newly funded pilot child care project will help alleviate a crisis in the region and throughout the state.

The Central Oregon area nonprofit points out that the state lacks a supply of quality child care options for children three years and younger, making it difficult for parents seeking a job to secure employment. Problems include long wait lists and the cost of care.

"Right now, we are experiencing both problems simultaneously," said Rachel Haakenson, NeighborImpact's director of marketing and communications. "For some, it is unaffordable and for those who can afford it, the slots simply don't exist. … The wait lists are close to two years for most of Central Oregon before you get an open slot."

Haakenson added that NeighborImpact has taken personal testimony from parents who are driving far out of their way to find daycare during the work day, and in some instances, travel to another town.

To help address the issue, the Early Learning Division is launching a pilot program called Baby Promise. After collecting letters of interest from 12 of Oregon's 13 Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, the Early Learning Division has selected three to be the recipients of funding and supports for launching the pilot. NeighborImpact Child Care Resources, serving Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is one of the three organizations selected to launch the program.

Baby Promise will provide fully-funded quality child care for 109 children from ages six weeks to three years through multiple providers in the tri-county area. NeighborImpact Child Care Resources will employ an infant/toddler specialist, among others, who will work directly with providers to provide training and maintain quality care. The program will also provide funding for high-quality materials to enhance early education environments.

Targeted specifically to increase support for low-income families as well as providers, the child care slots will be reserved for families at or below 185 percent of the federally defined poverty level.

Haakenson said the program will utilize existing private child care providers in the Central Oregon region. Those selections have not yet been made, but decisions will be based on the quality of care provided and of the facilities, how many kids they are capable of housing and what licensing the provider possesses.

The funding is intended to help providers offer more slots for infant to age 3 children.

"One of the biggest problems that we see is that infant care is much more expensive than child care over the age of 3, so those spots are diminishing because providers would prefer to have older child slots where they make more money," Haakenson explained. "By providing the guaranteed funding for those spots, we're encouraging the providers that already exist to include more infant slots."

Details of the program are yet to be determined, Haakenson said, as NeighborImpact only recently learned that the nonprofit was selected for the pilot program. She anticipates child care provider selections to potentially take place between this coming April and July.

Baby Promise will operate as a pilot for one year, with the hopes of extending beyond the pilot to continue the program in future years, pending the collection of data to demonstrate the overall success of the program.

Haakenson acknowledges that the program is not designed to solve all of the child care deficiencies, but is rather intended to be a first step in that process.

"The child care providers in the area are really struggling, and we have seen them closing for years now — just shutting down," she said. "So the hope is that this funding will prevent providers who are currently operating, but barely getting by, from closing their doors like they might have without this."

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