Missoula task force eyes emergency child care for front-line workers during pandemic

A team of community partners are looking to help area doctors, nurses and vital government employees by providing emergency childcare, and they expect to have the service in place this week for a limited number of children.

For the past 10 days, the Missoula Area Emergency Child Care Task Force has been working to address the protocols required to keep the children and their families safe as front-line employees log long hours on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve started to hear from healthcare professionals and the health department that there will eventually be a need for care for emergency child care,” said Heather Foster, CEO of the Missoula YMCA. “We’re trying to establish what that need really is.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Steve Bullock ordered all K-12 schools to close as the COVID-19 virus began to spread in Montana. With schools closed, many healthcare workers and vital government employees have had to juggle childcare and the demands of their job during the pandemic.

Members of the Missoula Area Emergency Child Care Task Force see an opportunity to help, and Missoula County Public Schools might play a central role.

“We’ve been talking with MCPS about jointly creating an emergency child care center for at least first responders, medical professionals and vital city and county employees, and keeping that group together,” said Foster. “We understand there’s a potential that the children of those who are caring for people who are sick may be at higher risk.”

The task force formed on March 19 and has been exploring the need on a number of fronts. It has surveyed the area’s front-line workers and has been searching for a suitable location.

It also has been looking for funds that could be used to support child care programs operating under emergency conditions.

“We have spoken to the YMCA about the possibility of using one of our facilities as an emergency child care center,” said MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson. “It would essentially be a very small center, less than 50 kids broken into groups of less than 10 during the day.”

The Task Force includes personnel from the Missoula City-County Health Department, both area hospitals, Child Care Resources, the YMCA, MCPS and the Boys and Girls Club of Missoula.

Grace Decker with the United Way of Missoula County is coordinating the effort.

“The task force is developing solutions that prioritize the health and safety of children and staff participating in child care programs as well as the community at large,” Decker said.