9,262. That is how many child care slots now exist in Tennessee that did not before.
To help create those thousands of slots, Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s child care initiative, ChildcareTennessee supported new and existing child care providers with Establishment and Expansion Grants.
Just like finding affordable housing is tough, finding child care in Nashville is equally as tough.
Waitlists are longer than a year and prospective parents are routinely advised to join waitlists before even becoming pregnant. In fact, many families are spending hundreds of dollars to join multiple waitlists in their quest to secure a spot.
According to a 2022 report from the Tennessee Child Care Task Force, the state would need to double the amount of licensed programs it has to meet current needs.
And opening new child care programs is not cheap or simple.
There is a long list of things that need to happen, such as securing funding, finding a building, passing codes, the licensing process and much more. A web of regulations to ensure safety and quality in care make the licensing process long. That does not even touch the maze of building and fire codes that new providers must navigate to get their buildings approved.
“We hear all the time that it is impossible to find child care in Nashville without a waiting list,” said Rebecca McGaugh, director of Reach Early Learning Center in Antioch. “Not only is finding a spot hard for families, but finding a high-quality program is hard.”
Regulations and the quality of child care programs are more important than ever in the wake of two devastating incidents at unlicensed child care programs in Nashville, resulting in the deaths of two children.
That’s where ChildcareTennessee’s Establishment and Expansion grants are able to help.
New or existing child care providers can apply for funds to purchase toys and playground equipment, books, teaching materials, classroom furniture and other items they need to run a safe, effective, high-quality program.
Providing top-tier care is expensive. According to the film “Starting from Zero,” outfitting a high-quality child care classroom costs approximately $20,000.
“It would have taken us a year or more to set aside funds for all the furniture and supplies needed for our new classroom,” said McGaugh. McGaugh added 25 more seats to her child care program through an Expansion Grant, bringing her program’s total capacity to 100. That’s 25 more children and their families in Antioch that now have access to child care that did not before.
“Caring for children 11 hours a day, it is essential to have quality, engaging toys, furniture and curriculum,” said Leslie Hanson, director of Equally Created in Sylvan Heights.
She opened her program in late 2022, adding 72 new spots for children and their families.
“The community response has been wonderful,” said Hanson. “Many of our families walk to our center each morning and are thrilled for us to be here.”
Employers are also getting into the child care game.
Through partnerships with national child care chains such as KinderCare and employers, ChildcareTennessee’s Establishment Grant is helping create employee-sponsored child care.
Earlier this summer, the Tyson Learning Center opened across the street from a Tyson Foods packing plant in Humboldt, a small town in West Tennessee. The new center will care for more than 100 children of Tyson employees and employ a staff of 20 child care professionals.
“I feel like the state of Tennessee is really trying to lead in early childhood education,” said Selena Harris, owner and operator of three programs in Dickson and Hickman counties. “We have a lot of support for child care providers and families.”
Establishment and Expansion grants are part of a larger Community Foundation partnership with the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
Along with these grants, ChildcareTennessee also administers Support and Enhancement Grants to enhance and increase quality in child care programs. Those grants assist providers with replacing or obtaining things they need to run a high quality program. A free administrative website, ChildcareTennessee.com, saves child care providers time with pre-made forms and templates and curated resources they need to run their program and ensure quality.
Since 2019, Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has distributed more than $85 million to licensed child care programs and helped create more than 9,000 new licensed child care slots across Tennessee.
“These grants are a true investment in the field of early childhood education, as well as our communities,” said Anne Clem, ChildcareTennessee Grants Manager.