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PORTLAND — Oregon Community Foundation, the state’s largest public charity, is responding to the crisis-level shortage of quality child care in Coos and Curry counties with a $500,000 multi-year investment in a new child care service model that will shift how child care businesses operate.

National experts define a "child care desert" as a community where 33 percent or fewer children in a community have access to a regulated child care slot. Research shows that in Coos and Curry counties, less than 20 percent of families have access to infant and toddler care.

“Our current child care model is not working, and the impacts have been devastating for children and families throughout the South Coast," said OCF Board Member Penny Allen. "Too many parents are struggling to find quality child care that they can afford. Some are forced to work fewer hours or not work at all, so they can take care of their children."

"By alleviating the administrative burden for child care providers, we hope to increase access to cost-effective, quality child care in Coos and Curry counties. We’re hopeful our investment will provide a successful, sustainable, and replicable model — and a long a term solution for providing quality child care in rural communities,” Allen added.

A “shared services” model is designed to centralize essential operational tasks such as billing, payroll and enrollment, freeing center directors and individual home-based providers to focus on children and teaching. By pooling needs and sharing resources with other centers or homes, providers collectively can better meet the needs of children and families together.

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“We are hopeful that with the support of OCF, this work will support Oregon’s small child care businesses by providing support for better business practices to achieve financial sustainability while leading to strong childhood outcomes,” said Taya Noland, childhood education director for Southwestern Oregon Community College. “High quality child care helps children get the early learning they need to succeed in school and enables parents to work so they can support their families. It’s time for us to work toward a positive disruption of the current system to improve outcomes for early educators and for the families they serve."

The OCF South Coast Leadership Council, which consists of local volunteers who serve as ambassadors and advocates for the Foundation, spent 18 months investigating the problem. After listening to local childcare providers and learning about the “shared services” model, members determined this approach could entice more people to become childcare providers and remove some of the burden of starting and operating a new business.

A key strategic priority for Oregon Community Foundation is bridging the “opportunity gap”— increasing inequities in access to education, health care, services and jobs, particularly for Oregon children born into poverty and children of color. Nearly half of all children born in Oregon are born into low-income families, and these children are less and less likely to reach the middle class. To combat the persistent gap in access to opportunity, Oregon Community Foundation deploys research, advocacy and grant making to, among other things, create economic security. This includes increasing subsidies for child care for low-income families.

“Efforts to address our state’s child care crisis must include a focus on a child’s first 1,000 days — the most productive and valuable time for intellectual and emotional development,” said OCF President and CEO Max Williams. “OCF approaches this challenge as a two-generation opportunity gap issue: Parents need to be able to rely on stable, quality, safe care for their children in order to work. And children need nurturing, well-trained adults, mentors and caregivers to experience optimal growth for school and life-readiness."

The OCF board of directors also approved a separate, $50,000 grant to support the launch of a new center in Bandon which will serve infants, toddlers and preschoolers and opened this month in unused space in Ocean Crest Elementary School. A group of community and business leaders collaborated to develop the Bandon Community Child Care Center in response to the closure of several other programs relied on by the community’s parents and employers. OCF is pleased to join Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Wild Rivers Coast Alliance and other funders in supporting this program.