Created to answer the need for high-quality early childhood care for Montana families.
Montana is home to a relatively small number of foundations. However, in true Montana fashion, the ones that are here are mighty and fiercely dedicated to improving the lives of our citizens.
In 2014, Montana was one of 8 states with zero public investment in the early childhood sector. Frustrated at the lack of support for children and families, and unable to keep up with the vast need, a group of philanthropic organization in the early childhood sector saw an great opportunity to create change.
Determined to make a difference, we formed a funder collaborative with the belief that in joining forces, we can have a greater impact than any of us could achieve working independently. This was the birth of the Funders for Montana’s Children (FMC).
We believe that our most precious resource is our children, and that we must help support Montana families and communities that are working to foster quality opportunities for every child. FMC is dedicated to shaping Montana’s future in the most positive ways — by being conveners, connectors and communicators. We work collaboratively, targeting initiatives and strengthening resources that make a difference at the most critical times in a child’s life.
FMC dove into the statewide early childhood landscape. We learned about the regulatory environment, existing initiatives, organizations and agencies, professional development, financial assistance, provider needs, and more. Eventually, in partnership with the Montana Community Foundation, we pooled funds and started making collaborative grants to further ideas and action.
Early Childhood is a large sector encompassing a breadth of issues: home visiting, parent and caregiver education, childcare, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and resilience, nutrition, the prevention of child abuse, quality ratings systems, professional development, preschool standards. Recently, great first steps have been taken on the ground and at the state policy levels in tackling some of these issues.
For example, access to quality preschool has made huge leaps in several communities through the STARS to Quality Rating System, administered by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), which provides information to parents about finding quality child care, and information to providers on pathways to improve quality, such as teacher training. DPHHS also administers the state’s first publicly-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children. STARS Preschool is available in 17 communities across the state. Coalition-building to address localized early childhood needs is being spearheaded by Early Childhood Coalitions, the Montana Early Childhood Collective Impact Initiative, and the recent Headwaters Foundation 0-5 Strategic Initiative.
FMC quickly realized that we needed to narrow our focus in order to make a significant impact with the resources we have available. After listening to stakeholders, professionals, and those that have been in the sector for years, we concluded that engaging the private sector was a necessary step to increased support. Other states have had significant success when business leaders join the conversation in a meaningful way.
Furthermore, we noticed that there is a crisis developing across the state. Access to affordable, quality child care for children ages 0-3 has become an increasingly challenging market. This is an economic issue, as it affects the availability of the current workforce, a child development issue, as some families, especially those that are low income or underserved, must resort to whatever care they can find regardless of the quality, and a family welfare issue, as making childcare work can put tremendous stress on families. Therefore, the Funders for Montana’s Children has made our focus engaging business leaders to bring their ingenuity, innovation, business sense, passion and influence to tackle the challenge of access to quality childcare for children 0-3 years old.
Partnerships & The Future
In 2017, the FMC had the great fortune of beginning a partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The Community Development Division of the bank has had success in increasing investment in early childhood issues working with similar partnerships in Minnesota, and is now lending their experience, expertise and resources to Montana efforts. Together, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and Funders for Montana’s Children published Early Childhood Development in Montana, a report detailing statistics and information about early child health and development, child care quality, access to preschool, and other important indicators of success for Montana’s youngest children.
The benefits from investments in young children accrue to many different sectors and will likely need a multi-sector response to address the state’s early care needs. The public, private, and philanthropic sectors have key roles to play. FMC and the Minneapolis Fed are in the process of convening discussions with business and community leaders about early care and education issues in their communities. The goal: to foster strategic direction and multi-sector solutions to increase quality early care options, which will benefit Montana’s workforce both today and in the future.