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Montana Early Care Initiative - Strategic Investments for Early Childhood Development

June 30, 2010View for printing

The Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits (BSI) today announced the launch of the Montana Early Care Initiative, a new BSI program to help strengthen the field of early care and education services in Montana.

“Working in partnership with state government agencies and key leaders in Montana's early childhood development field, BSI developed the ECI Program to help build the capacity of child care resource and referral agencies, and attract investment by state, regional and national foundations,” said Mike Schechtman, BSI's Executive Director. “Over 96% of the funding for early care and education services in Montana comes from government sources,” Schechtman noted. “There are still many unmet needs, and this initiative will help inform and engage non-government funders about where their grantmaking can help improve and expand early care and education services.”

“Brain research data shows that between 75% and 85% of brain development occurs between 0-3 years old,” added Schechtman, “and prominent economists have substantiated the tremendous return on investment for early childhood learning programs when compared with traditional incentive programs or investments.”

BSI is currently surveying 190 Montana and regional community, corporate, family and private foundations regarding their interest in and experience with early care and education. This field focuses on the developmental needs of young children (pre-birth to eight years of age) and their families in a variety of settings, e.g., child care centers, family homes and group homes, Head Start and Early Head Start centers, home visiting programs and private preschools.

“We’re very pleased that Mike Halligan, Executive Director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation (Missoula) personally wrote and invited his foundation colleagues to participate in the survey,” said Schechtman. “The Washington Foundation is a leader in the development of early care and education opportunities in Montana, in part because it increases the productivity of today’s workers and builds a stronger workforce for the future.”

Schechtman said, “Montana’s early care and education system is on the cusp of change due to implementation of the State of Montana's new STARS to Quality Program, which is a voluntary quality rating improvement system that aligns quality indicators with support and incentives for early childhood programs and early childhood professionals. This is an opportune time for funders that want to make a difference to be involved. In addition, there are critical issues regarding early care and education in Montana which we believe will attract the interest of Montana foundations.

These include:

● Two-thirds of Montana’s 36,800 low-income and poverty level children receive no financial assistance in accessing quality child care. Their families rely extensively on informally provided child care, the quality of which is inconsistent.

● Under-served families in low-population, rural counties; in Indian reservation communities; and in low-income communities in the more populated counties – those with the least financial resources and the greatest needs – too often lack access to licensed child care providers and the associated support systems that are able to tap key government funding programs.

● Studies indicate that the lack of access to high quality child care environments makes it more difficult for a person to achieve positive outcomes in later childhood and adult life, and increases the likelihood that he or she will experience negative outcomes.”

BSI will use findings from the survey to expand the network of funders concerned about the early care and education field in Montana, and help share knowledge and experience about this vital issue. The information will also be used to encourage increased investment in this arena by helping funders become more knowledgeable about this field and opportunities for making grants in early care and education. BSI anticipates that a variety of peer learning and professional development opportunities will be created to help ensure that foundation grantmaking can be as informed and effective as possible.

In addition to building increased foundation support for Montana’s child care and education system, ECI has two other main components that include:

Building the organizational capacity of Montana’s 11 community-based Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies. These organizations are foundational building blocks for Montana’s child care and education services delivery system of almost 1,500 licensed and registered early child care providers. This component will help CCR&R executive staff become successful entrepreneurs in gathering funds for program development and building partnerships in their service areas.

Expanding and strengthening the infrastructure that supports and assists the CCR&R agencies and the direct providers of early care and education services. BSI will conduct an in-depth, comprehensive assessment of the existing infrastructure of funding, training, technical assistance, research, planning and coordination that supports the Montana Child Care Resource & Referral Network, the 11 CCR&R agencies, and the direct providers of early care and education services in Montana. The findings will be used to design an action plan to strengthen philanthropic resources and the infrastructure that serves and supports the early care and education services delivery system in Montana.

Five foundations contributed a total of $46,000 to support ECI’s initial developmental phase. They include:

• Gilhousen Family Foundation (Bozeman, MT)

• Lora L. and Martin N. Kelley Family Foundation Trust (Portland, OR) • Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund (Emigrant, MT)

• F. Morris and Helen Silver Foundation (Missoula, MT)

• Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation (Missoula, MT)

Foundations and other funders that want to learn more about ECI, how they might participate, or to receive a report of the survey’s findings, should contact Mike Schechtman, executive director, Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits, P.O. Box 1514, Helena, MT 59624, 406-443-5860 or

Founded in 1999 and headquartered in Helena, MT, BSI strengthens the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in Montana and other Philanthropic Divide states nearby. BSI undertakes large scale initiatives that develop new resources and infrastructure to help a state's nonprofit sector strengthen and assist individual nonprofits. In addition to a three-year initiative that successfully incubated and developed the Montana Nonprofit Association, BSI is helping to develop expanded philanthropic resources for Montana’s nonprofit community. In 2008, BSI published its Guide to Supporting Montana Local and County Community Foundations and continues to disseminate it to financial advisors throughout the state.

Contact: Mike Schechtman, Executive Director, (406) 443-5860

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