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Kellee Fiscus is director of Kids Inn Child Care Center, which received a startup grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Rebecca Green | SBJ
Kellee Fiscus is director of Kids Inn Child Care Center, which received a startup grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Seeds for Care: Missouri communities net $19M from state for child care startups

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Christina Ford was like a lot of moms in 2019. She needed safe and reliable child care, but there were few options to be found.

So, she did what any entrepreneur would do: She started her own business.

“I knew what I needed as a parent, and I was hearing from others in the community that the same type of need was coming up,” she said. “I started to plan out what it would look like for Springfield to have drop-in child care, like you see in other areas.”

That’s how Kids Inn Child Care Center LLC came to open July 11 on East Lark Street in south Springfield. The center accepts children on a drop-in basis Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weeknights or until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday – several hours after most facilities have shuttered for the day.

“It’s a new concept here, and you never know how something new is going to go over, but people are very excited about it,” Ford said.

The center is licensed for 40 children, including up to eight infants and toddlers.

It’s not an uncommon move for a parent to go into do-it-yourself mode when there is a need and no one else to meet it.

“Historically, that’s what has driven many people to choose to open child care centers,” said Stephanie Chandler, program manager in the quality programs section of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “I would be very surprised if that wasn’t the case.”

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey earlier this year that found half of working parents of children younger than 12 said it was somewhat or very difficult to handle child care responsibilities.

Among working parents who need child care for children ages 6 and younger, over 80% said it would be difficult to find backup child care if their provider became unavailable, the Pew study found.

If, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, this may feel like perfect timing for new DESE grants that invite mothers, fathers and other entrepreneurs to be inventive about child care.

Startup seed money
DESE announced the first round of recipients of its startup funding for child care agencies on July 28. Nearly $19 million in funding increased child care capacity statewide by 8,022 spaces with 161 grants awarded.

Three programs were funded in Greene County; in addition to Kids Inn Child Care, which received $125,000 to fund 35 spots for children, the recipients were Sunrise Children Learning Center LLC, with $125,000 to provide 50 spots, and The Crayon Academy LLC, with $43,802 to provide 60 spots.

Other nearby recipients were in Dallas County, Little Lambs Day Care LLC with $89,729 for 35 spots, and two in Christian County, Tiger Tots Daycare & Preschool LLC, $171,829 for 72 spots, and Toddler Town Daycare, $15,150 for 10 spots.

Applications closed in June, but many of those are still under review, and another round of funding will be announced in the fall.

DESE is now offering a startup grant for preschools, but these funds are available only for public school districts and local education agencies. Applications for preschool startups are due Sept. 30. Allowable funds range from $45,000 to $250,000, depending on the number of classrooms requested, according to DESE, and funded classrooms must be up and running by April 30, 2023. 

The DESE grants are funded by Child Care Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations, approved by Congress in 2021.

It’s money that fills an urgent need in the nation but also in the state. An estimated $1.35 billion in revenue is lost annually in Missouri because of child care issues, according to a joint report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. That estimate includes lost opportunity costs and $280 million in lost tax revenue.

The same report found 9% of parents surveyed voluntarily left a job due to child care issues, and 28% left, changed or declined a job because of child care problems in the past year. Of those who left jobs voluntarily, 57% had children 2 or younger.

A report by Child Care Aware of Southern Missouri found the state’s open child care programs dropped by a third to 2,223 available from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to July 2020, and many of those were operating at reduced capacity.

Meeting a need
Ford said the DESE grant came at the perfect time, as COVID-19 exposed the child care crisis and heightened the problem of parents not being able to find caregivers.

“A lot of day cares couldn’t survive,” she said.

Kids Inn opened at a time when some area agencies had closed for good and many families were in need.

Drop-in care is an option for parents or guardians in many scenarios, Ford said. Some work from home and need occasional child care coverage for meetings or heavy work times. Some need care for their children so they can tend to appointments, and others have regular caregivers who are temporarily unable to serve.

“Every day looks different for us,” Ford said. “With school starting, we’re beginning to see before care, and we’re also open late. We see kids that come in the evening when the parent has something to do.”

Licensing allows Kids Inn to have one teacher for 10 children in the mixed-age area and one teacher for four infants or toddlers.

Ford said the $125,000 she received in DESE funding made it a lot easier for her to open.

“A lot of businesses open and close fast because they don’t have startup funding,” she said. “Child care is such a need. It would be unfortunate if we had to close our doors because of finances.”

Although she is still pulling in numbers to firm up estimates, she has calculated an annual budget of $250,000. She sees the business expanding, though, especially with the need that exists.

Entrepreneurship in child care
Ford is the mother of five children, and her husband, Dana Ford, is employed as Missouri State University’s men’s basketball coach.

She has a lot of practical child care experience as a mother, but she said she brings an entrepreneurial mindset to her business.

“I have gone back to school for child development, since that’s not my background,” she said. “I have a love for children, but I’ve always been business minded.”

With Dana, she started a charity called The Rebound Foundation, which aims to provide transitional homes and restoration services for women who are recovering from domestic abuse, according to its website. She said there are a lot of similarities between a nonprofit and a business.

“You may have a great idea, but if you don’t lay that foundation, it’s going to crumble,” she said.

She added that starting a child care business takes more than having a heart for kids; it takes business acumen, a detailed plan and a solid understanding of finances.

“I want it to be quality, especially when we’re talking about people’s babies,” she said. “Parents shouldn’t just have to put their children anywhere because they are stressed. Their babies are their prized possessions and should be treated as such.”

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