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Butte 4-C's providing lifeline of support for childcare centers in Philipsburg and Drummond

Flint Creek Childcare in Philipsburg
Posted at 1:17 PM, Jun 18, 2024

PHILIPSBURG — Childcare centers across the nation are reporting difficulties with costs and teacher shortages. If you run a childcare facility in rural Montana, that difficulty is even greater according to one Philipsburg nonprofit.

"We know that from zero to five are just the most crucial years for beginning, you know, all of those brain synapses that are forming," says Mary Hager, executive director of Flint Creek Childcare in Philipsburg and Drummond.

"We want them to be kindergarten-ready. We want them to be ready for school because that’s going to create the foundation for them to be healthy learners throughout their life," Hager adds.

Hager has been leading Granite County’s first licensed daycare provider since the nonprofit opened in 2019. Since its inception, the facility has been a big hit which has led to an expansion in staff. Flint Creek Childcare now employs seven teachers.

The childcare facility also expanded to an additional facility in Drummond, and come August, the one-room center in Philipsburg will open a newly constructed addition that will allow for infant care, a toddler room, and a preschool classroom.

Despite the expansions, Hager says keeping costs low for families and retaining quality teachers are the big challenges she faces.

"We want to keep costs for our tuition low and affordable and we want to remain accessible to all, so that is a challenge," she says.

Hager says Flint Creek Childcare keeps costs down with the help of Butte 4-C’s, a nonprofit that serves as a resource and referral system for families and providers in southwest Montana. The nonprofit has been in operation for 50 years and serves daycare providers across the Southwest Montana region with programs that help facilities provide quality environments for kids and teachers.

On a chilly June morning that began with a fresh blanket of snow covering Granite County, Kim Polich of Butte 4-C’s hopped in her pickup and made the roughly hour-and-a-half drive on a two-way highway to meet with Hager and her team.

Among her many duties with Butte 4-C's, Polich is a consultant with the nationwide STARS program that offers daycare providers the support they need to train teachers and ensure quality education.

"They may not have access to all the same resources that providers in more urban areas do," says Polich before sitting down with Hager to look over a recent assessment. "They’re just providing such a critical service for their community that they serve, so we just want to make sure that they are supported and can keep going."

Polich makes trips to Philipsburg and other rural southwest Montana communities about once a month to help connect providers with resources like food programs and teacher trainings. Hager says these services are a huge help to teachers who can access remote training and skip the 50-mile drive after a long day's work. She says assistance with food programming is also crucial in areas that don't have amenities like grocery stores.

"I mean, here in Philipsburg a block of Parmesan cheese might cost $7, but at least we have a grocery store," says Hager. "They don't even have a grocery store in Drummond."

That simple amenity can impact Hager's whole day if she runs out of an item like milk or cheese, but with the assistance of Butte 4-C's, she says she can make meal plans.

"Philipsburg is great about helping itself but we still need to look for that help from other areas and so the Butte 4-C’s plays a big part of that. If we didn’t have them it would be a significant loss to our region," says Hager.

Staff with the Butte 4-C's says they are waiting to hear back on several requests for proposals from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services that may impact their capability to continue to serve southwest Montana childcare facilities.