Children at Good Beginnings preschool listen to a story read by Becca Madsen. (Photo by Katie Holmlund)

A group of volunteers are looking to help increase daycare options for young children in Petersburg. With new grant money, they are hoping to survey all parents by the end of this month and then get input from local childcare providers. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

They informally called themselves the “Early Childcare Group” and it’s a part of the SHARE coalition made up of local non-profits. Through school surveys last year, the group knew that some families were struggling with childcare. But how are they doing now?

The end goal is to improve childcare for young children in Petersburg.

“Trying to create equitable, accessible, affordable, quality childcare in Petersburg,” said Katie Holmlund, one of the volunteers and co-founder of the outdoor after school program, Kinder Skog. “Making sure that we’re not letting families fall through any gaps, or any kids fall through these gaps that we saw widen through COVID. Childcare has always been an issue, COVID made it all worse.”

The goal sounds simple enough: improve childcare for Petersburg’s youth.  But to do that, they first need to tease out exactly what the need is. The group has partnered with the Petersburg Medical Center, which obtained a grant of $1,350 from Petersburg Community Foundation to help in the effort.

Julie Walker is with PMC and says the hospital doesn’t have any plans to start up its own child care, they are just partnering with the SHARE group to support the effort.

“Childcare really is highly related to our community’s wellness,” said Walker. “It’s also highly related to our workforce so we want to support this effort.”

The grant will pay for a needs assessment project. First, the group is gathering community input through an online childcare needs survey, which will close at the end of the May. The early childcare group wants every parent or caregiver of a child 12 and under to fill it out. Whether it’s a traditional day care center or siblings and neighbors helping watch the younger ones; it’s all considered child care in this project.

“Even if they are not in childcare we’d like to hear from them,” Walker said.

After that survey they’ll focus on getting feedback from childcare providers. They’ll be interviewing directors, home care providers, and staff members associated with centers. They’ll compile all the data and present the findings at a community meeting this fall.

Then brainstorming will begin on what next steps to take.

Children in the afterschool outdoor program, Kinder Skog, explore Sandy Beach. (L-R) Silas Stanton-Gregor, Rosie Lohr, Oskar Olsen, and Declan Olsen. (Photo by Katie Holmlund)

Group member, Sharlay Mamoe, is the Director of the Petersburg Children’s Center. She says it’s important to shine a spotlight on the childcare needs in Petersburg.

“Childcare is essential–very important–and not given enough credit, I think, because the children are important; they’re our future and we need to make sure that we put them as a priority.” Mamoe said.

Good childcare also makes for a safer community, says Rikki McKay. She joined the group last year when she was working at WAVE or Working Against Violence for Everyone. She says one of the protective factors for violence prevention is income equality, which is difficult without childcare. She says this became even more apparent during the pandemic.

“What I think Covid did was focus our attention on the fact that without childcare there is no workforce and without a workforce there is no economy so this problem became everyone’s problem,” McKay said.

But childcare must be affordable for parents to use it. McKay says families can only pay so much or it doesn’t pencil out.

“The situation that we were finding ourselves in is that we cannot charge parents anymore for care because they just can’t afford to pay it but at the same time we have difficulty keeping a workforce in childcare because the pay is so low and the benefits are sometimes nonexistent,” she said.

But McKay and the rest of the early childcare group say besides teasing out what the community needs to improve on they also want to know what IS working for families.

“Find that survey and take a few minutes to fill it out so that we can make some progress here and really help families locate the care that they need,” McKay said.

The group also has an open invite to anyone who may want to get involved in the child care project. For more information, contact Amanda at Petersburg’s WAVE at 772-9283. 

The survey can be found here. Participants who choose to will be put in a drawing for $200.