Want to start a child care center in Alaska? This organization will show you how.

SPONSORED: Wondering how to launch a child care facility or develop an existing program? At thread, experts offer free and low-cost resources to help professionals grow.

Presented by thread

Communities across Alaska are grappling with an unprecedented shortage of child care providers. In Anchorage, the number of facilities has fallen to its lowest in decades. Some communities, like Valdez, don’t have any full-time child care programs at all.

“This contributes greatly to community and family stress,” said Stephanie Berglund, CEO of thread, the state’s child care resource and referral agency.

At thread, a team of experts is helping bridge Alaska’s child care gap. Working alongside the State of Alaska Child Care Program Office, which oversees licensing, thread manages state grants and supports child care professionals through program training and development, much of it free or low-cost.

“We work together to provide supports and resources targeted to the needs of Alaska child care providers, the needs of our families and communities,” said Child Care Program Office Lead Christina Hulquist.

Child care needs take center stage

Alaska’s challenges began before the 2020 pandemic and have only intensified. Stabilization grants administered by thread have helped sustain the workforce, but unlike other industries, child care has struggled to increase wages or offer incentives to retain employees.

“The sector is struggling and hasn’t recovered like other industries,” said Berglund.

This shortage has wide-ranging economic effects. A recent Alaska Chamber survey found that 77% of parents had missed work due to child care issues, costing Alaska employers roughly $111 million annually.

For employers, the pandemic highlighted staff child care needs. Businesses implemented flexible schedules and sought ways to be more family friendly. Some have started offering innovative solutions like in-office child care.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last few years with child care relief funds that have allowed us more opportunities to hear from families and child care providers,” said Hulquist. “While we are in a child care crisis, there are also lots of amazing things happening in child care programs right now.”

Finding affordable care can be challenging for many families. When they do secure care, they may not be able to prioritize programs that meet their children’s needs.

At thread, early childhood and referral specialists provide direct support to families seeking child care. They also answer questions about developmental milestones and challenges, such as eating, sleeping and potty training.

“We provide extensive referrals to take the guesswork out of how to start the search. It empowers families,” said Berglund.

For assistance, call thread at 800-278-3723, email info(at)threadalaska.org, or visit its offices. Its website has referral information about child care assistance programs, a child care search tool and a comprehensive plan for families.

How to get started: Building a child care program

Child care providers in Alaska are licensed and regulated by the State of Alaska’s Child Care Program Office, the lead agency for the Federal Child Care Development Fund. In the Municipality of Anchorage, child care is licensed at the MOA Health Department Child Care Licensing Child Care Licensing.

“Our vision is that safe, healthy child care is available and affordable for all families in Alaska,” said Hulquist.

Supported by federal funding, the office oversees child care facilities, provides financial assistance to families and offers resources to improve program quality.

“Quality child care is important on many levels,” said Hulquist. “It promotes children’s development, learning and social emotional health, parental employment and self-sufficiency.”

Providers can start the process by contacting the state office or filling out an application online.

Child care professionals can also access state resources, such as consultations with a licensor, to gain a full understanding of the process.

Once licensed, child care professionals can work with thread to help grow their careers and improve services. The organization is the largest trainer of early education professionals in the state.

“The state can assist with licensing, health and safety regulations,” said Berglund. “thread can help with setting up the classroom, setting up a daily schedule, helping providers understand supports and resources available.”

Licensed providers can register for the Alaska SEED (System for Early Education) program, a statewide system designed to support early childhood and school-age professionals in Alaska. Once registered, professionals have access to a variety of benefits.

The program offers a structured approach to professional development; it includes a free database for tracking progress, 12-step career ladder and access to scholarship and funding opportunities.

thread and Alaska SEED are also offering the 2024 Alaska SEED ROOTS Award thanks to a $7.5 million allocation by the State of Alaska Child Care Program Office to increase wages for child care professionals. The award aims to support those working in licensed or approved child care facilities in Alaska.

Eligible professionals are encouraged to apply through January 7, 2024.­­

Grow your child care business: Free trainings and consultations

Meanwhile, Learn & Grow, Alaska’s Quality Recognition & Improvement System, supports early childhood education programs in enhancing care quality. The program features five levels of quality standards, focusing on teacher-child interactions and nurturing learning environments.

“It’s a helpful framework for programs to improve their quality as a business. It’s also a helpful consumer education tool for families as they’re shopping for high quality care,” said Berglund.

The organization provides ten hours of free technical assistance a year to early childhood education programs, during which experts help with goal setting and coaching. Customized virtual or in-person training is also available.

thread assists child care programs supporting children with special needs, connecting families to community resources such as the Alaska Inclusive Child Care Program, which offers supplemental funding for program training, accommodations and tailored support.

All of the organization’s trainings are free through June 2024.

It has also partnered with the Alaska Small Business Development Center to offer 15 free small business webinars, covering financial, legal and marketing practices for child care programs, accessible until February 28, 2024.

As the state looks forward, the Child Care Program Office and thread are dedicated to helping new and current child care providers flourish.

“There’s great opportunity to be a child care provider in the state of Alaska,” said Berglund.

thread is Alaska’s Child Care Resource & Referral organization, working to advance the quality of early education and child development by empowering parents, educating child care professionals, and collaborating with our communities.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with thread. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.