Bozeman startup aims to alleviate child care woes through network of in-home facilities | News

KeepHealthCare.ORG – Bozeman startup aims to alleviate child care woes through network of in-home facilities | News

In a push to provide more child care options for Montana parents, a new Bozeman-based startup aims to stimulate the growth of the small, in-home centers that it considers the future of care in the U.S.

The startup, MyVyllage, offers business support to help prospective providers navigate the paperwork associated with getting a center off the ground, as well as training and mentorship services. Headquartered in Bozeman, the business is also launching pilot programs in Missoula and Aurora and Boulder, Colorado.

Erica Mackey, co-founder and CEO, began germinating the idea for MyVyllage a few years ago after she gave birth to her daughter and discovered the difficulties of securing care both in the U.S. and abroad.

“That was, for me, a personal pain point, but also where I became obsessed with why it was challenging everywhere to find a quality care provider that was affordable and available,” Mackey said.

In Montana, child care providers, as overseen by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, are broken down into three categories based on size: family homes (up to six children), group homes (between seven and 12 children) and child care centers (13 or more).

MyVyllage targets the smaller providers, which typically operate out of a family residence rather than a facility. These homes often have lower overhead and startup cost, making them a perfect potential solution for the supply side of child care, Mackey said.

“It’s magical, the in-home experience, when done well,” she said. “It’s already the most affordable option in the market, but what you see in terms of quality is really varied.”

The startup’s services will focus on providing what Mackey calls “business in a box” tools for prospective providers — business plans, training, marketing and scheduling and help with the state’s certification process. The other side of the operation will encompass mentorship and connect new providers to partner resources, such as the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and Child Care Connections, the area’s regional referral organization.

MyVyllage takes a 10 percent cut from new facilities, but Mackey stressed the business aims to save providers more than that in the long run.

“New providers come on the market and are unknowns, so what we’re trying to do with this mentor program is to create a really high quality experience from day one and the support network for it to evolve,” Mackey said. “To me, this is the most scalable solution.”

The Early Childhood Services Bureau, part of Montana DPHHS, oversees the more than 300 licensed child care facilities across the state, which is broken into seven regions. Region 4, a six-county grouping that includes Gallatin, Park, Jefferson, Broadwater, Meagher and Lewis and Clark counties, encompasses roughly 70 licensed programs — from preschools to daycares — about 50 of which are in Bozeman.

MyVyllage-supported facilities will follow the STARS to Quality program, which incentivizes providers to take part in training and qualifications on topics from social and emotional development to food and nutrition.

On the cost side, Mackey is hopeful that increasing the availability of lower-cost family homes will give more parents an affordable option for care.

According to one estimate compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, infant care in Montana costs, on average, more than $750 per month. In the Gallatin Valley, several facilities have cited prices closer to $1,000.

And low supply doesn’t help. Across the state, nearly 1,500 licensed child care providers shut down between 2010 and 2015, according to DPHHS data. The closures eliminated 6,000 positions for children, while over the same period, the state’s population grew by about 45,000.

The imbalance has gotten so bad that families will coordinate their conception around providers’ availability, Mackey said.

“Being able to formalize and professionalize the family home offering is a big step toward affordability,” she said.

MyVyllage, which will officially launch its website next week, is currently working to open 20 new centers across its four cities by the end of June before expanding to more areas across the country.

“We want to have a million kids in care in the next five years,” Mackey said. “Montana has already proven that there’s an appetite for people wanting to be quality providers, and it’s such an incredible opportunity for Montana to lead the country in what will be the future for our children getting the best possible starts.”


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