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Childcare providers concerned about potential loss of Butte 4-C's services due to DPHHS changes

Montana nonprofits and daycares concerned for the future
Posted at 1:14 PM, May 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 15:14:20-04

BUTTE — A nonprofit that aids families and daycare providers in southwest Montana is concerned about upcoming changes they say are being made by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

"We don’t know what to expect because again, splitting the contracts they have told us, the state, that we only get one to three contracts for our eligibility and one to four for our provider services," says Terri Amberg, the executive director of Butte 4-C's, a nonprofit that has been working with daycare providers and families in Southwest Montana for nearly 50 years.

Butte 4-C's works with at-risk families by offering a referral system that helps them find work and daycare options, and they support food programs that daycare providers use to feed kids in their service. The organization also supports daycare providers with vital training and licensing among other services.

"There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t call the 4-C's. They’re a support system. They are an accountability system. They’re going in and out of childcare facilities and ensuring that the care that we offer is the care that children deserve," says Missy Okrusch, the owner of King's Kids Child Enrichment Center.

Okrusch's daycare and preschool currently serves 120 children and has been in operation for 24 years. She says the childcare industry is suffering high overhead costs and a lack of skilled workers, but Butte 4-C's plays an integral role in training staff.

"What they’re doing is vital. We cannot afford to lose them because childcare is struggling as a whole and so, without that extra support it’s just gonna be detrimental to our field," says Okrusch.

Okrusch is not the only one worried about the future of the Butte 4-C's. Terri Amberg says she worries that a reduction in contracts pits nonprofits in Montana's seven regions against each other.

"It does kind of pit us against...our current R and R’s," says Amberg.

She explains that "R and R" stands for the nonprofits across the state that provide resources and referrals to clients.

"So only one to three contracts and one to four contracts (will be offered). We just don’t know what that’s going to look like as far as service delivery and how that will affect families across Montana and childcare providers in particular."

In an email to MTN News, Holly Matkin, the communications officer for Montana DPHHS, responds: “Forthcoming RFPs related to the Child Care Development Fund are designed to increase access to high-quality, affordable child care for hardworking Montana families. We cannot answer further questions regarding the RFPs at this time but encourage you to review the RFP documents once they are publicly available."

Amberg and her team say they are currently waiting on the official word from the state, but she worries a decision to shrink the proposals could lead to the closure of the Butte 4-C's and she says that will hurt children and childcare providers alike.

Childcare providers in southwest Montana are also waiting on the official word from the state about their new plan and they worry about how changes involving the Butte 4-C's will impact their already fragile businesses.

"Our job is one of the most important jobs in the world because we impact the future and we are the workforce behind the workforce; without us, parents can’t go to work," says Okrusch, adding that the programs offered by the local nonprofit are crucial to her business.