MyVillage Sandbox

Bridget Uzzelle reads to students during a day at MyVillage Sandbox Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Bozeman.

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Gov. Steve Bullock this week announced directives for Montana child care providers, classifying those providers as essential workers, placing stricter safety requirements on child care centers and prioritizing care for the children of other workers deemed essential by the state.

“We must make sure childcare is still available to lessen the burden on Montanans who are on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19, while taking appropriate measures to keep children and workers safe,” Bullock said in a news release announcing the directive.

The directive asks centers to limit the total number of children in their care to 24 at all times and to break those kids into groups of 10 or fewer. Kids in one group shouldn’t go into other groups’ classrooms or areas, and kids whose parents can work from home or stay home from work should also be caring for their kids rather than taking them to child care centers.

Even before the pandemic, there weren’t enough child care providers in the Gallatin Valley for kids below the age of 5. Now, with kids out of school and child care centers closing, the need for adequate child care resources is clearer than ever.

Rose Heider is the development and outreach coordinator for Child Care Connections, a network of child care centers that covers a six-county region, including Gallatin County.

Heider said that, at the beginning of March, the six counties had a combined 186 licensed child care providers. Since then, 118 have closed.

“We have seen a lot of child care closures in the last few weeks,” Heider said.

The main takeaway of the directive from Bullock, she said, was for families to keep kids at home if at all possible.

“We understand that it’s extremely difficult to work from home with kids. A lot of us are balancing working from home and kids and everything else,” Heider said. “But parents who are working from home (are still) bringing their kids to child care and that is not recommended.”

Among other initiatives to help families and providers, Child Care Connections is helping offset the cost of daily care for kids whose parents or guardians are essential workers. Heider said if a family with essential worker guardians has young, school-aged kids who are suddenly not in school, the cost of care can be a heavy burden.

“We are working really hard to try and make sure that there are some resources available,” Heider said.

The organization has also created a page on its website for up-to-date information and resources for parents and providers, including activities to help explain the virus and its effects to kids.

MyVillage, a network of in-home child care centers, was already providing care to Bozeman Health employees for months before the governor’s directive.

“The governor’s directive on childcare only reinforces what we were doing already,” said Erica Mackey, MyVillage co-founder and CEO. “He declared child care an essential service and strongly encouraged stable groups of 10 or less kids, which is already a core strength of our programs.”

Mackey said kids coming to MyVillage care centers have their temperatures taken when they first arrive and after naps to monitor their health and watch for any potential COVID-19 symptoms. According to the CDC, otherwise healthy children who become sick with the virus usually exhibit mild symptoms.

MyVillage care centers — there are 60 of them in Montana and Colorado — are also offering week-by-week enrollment for the children of essential workers, as opposed to longer contracts. And if a kid enrolled in a program has to quarantine, the company will continue to pay the child’s tuition to the educators, who often rely on those payments to support their own families.

“Coronavirus underscores the importance of child care for all working parents, but particularly for those who are caring for the sick and ensuring our grocery stores remain supplied and open,” Mackey said. “Our educators are determined to stay open as long as they can do it safely and we’re, as a company, incredibly honored to be able to mobilize and meet the need.”

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at or at (406) 582-2651.