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Families happy with Head Start, national director visits Billings

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Posted at 12:44 AM, Jun 28, 2024

BILLINGS - Billings and much of Montana are dealing with a childcare shortage, with 59 percent of the counties in the state considered childcare deserts.

According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, that means the supply meets less than one-third of the estimated demand.

The national director of the Office of Head Start visited Billings on Thursday.

Zack Watts and Megan Rinnert picked up three-year-old Melody from AWARE Early Head Start.

“This is the right fit for our kids,” said Rinnert, who has other children who have attended AWARE.

And for them, it's a program that holds more value than a daycare.

“We work with her where we can,” Watts said. ‘But it's kind of like being here, gives her like that individualized help and progress to go through. And so it's just kind of seeing these little advancements.”

Another parent sees it the same way as she considers early head start for eight-month-old Remington.

“The family one, they said that helps out with family like counseling and stuff like that,” said Destiny Neary. “And I was going to try that."

Licensed childcare meets about 44% of demand in Montana and 40% in Yellowstone County, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

“So being able to find a program that could work within their needs and their boundaries was amazing,” Rinnert said.

That same report states that in 2023 Montana households averaged $18,940 in childcare expenses for Children under age five.

“There's definitely a childcare crisis across the state with availability,” said Colleen Bosh, AWARE early childhood director. “And so, yeah, we have 48 slots here that we can help with that piece.”

Bosch said with early head start, parents are the first teachers and the programs help not only the children but the entire family.

“They're supported here, Bosch said. “They are empowered by being here and it really becomes part of their life pretty quickly.”

Bosch and her crew gave a tour of AWARE Early Head Start, to Dr. Khari Garvin, director of the Office of Head Start in Washington, D.C.

“I love the way it's laid out,” said Garvin. “Everything looks and feels new.”

Garvin spoke about how important the school can be for families.

"So it really is an opportunity for high-quality learning, education, parent and family engagement services, nutrition, all of the seeds and, and components that are needed to really get a good start off in life,” Garvin said.

“Finding AWARE was a godsend, honestly,” Rinnert said.