New Tool Brings Childcare Providers And Parents Together

(Photo by Brandon McDermott)
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May 11, 2020 - 11:05am

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, childcare providers in Nebraska had to follow statewide directed health measures restricting providers to 10 children or less per room. And many parents who were furloughed or working from home took their children out of day care. That left a couple of problems, childcare providers with empty rooms and some parents looking for providers. There is a possible solution called the Nebraska Childcare referral Network, a website trying to bridge the gap.


Betty Medinger knew there was a unique problem in Nebraska. There were some daycare providers without enough business during the pandemic, but some parents who still needed a place to send their kids because their daycares had closed. Medinger is the senior vice president with the Nebraska Children’s and Family Foundation.

“We've been working to try to help communities connect with each other, know each other and work together as a provider cohort to build their capacity and also build the quality of care,” Medinger said.

A collaboration of state and non-profit groups, including the Nebraska Children’s and Family Foundation, brainstormed how to help providers with openings and parents whose original provider had closed. The idea was a website where both providers can list openings and parents can find what’s available. It’s become the Nebraska Childcare Referral Network.

“We had documents on websites but they were not search friendly or up to date on whose open and who's not,” Medinger said.

Medinger says it has become a good resource and referral tool for parents and providers. It started with data they had available on child care providers and survey of providers. How many spots were open, what age groups have openings? They gathered the data on the local and state level. Angela Blaesi is an in-home child care provider in North Platte. Her daycare normally has 10 children. But because of COVID-19, she’s had openings to fill as two parents pulled their kids out.

“I'm not going to just take somebody different every single day,” Blaesi said. “I do have to have them interview (with me) and know that the child is being quarantined at home. And then these are the only two houses that they're going to be at.”

Blaesi says she used to accept what are called drop-ins, parents dropping their kids off for a single day. But with the coronavirus, she’s been pickier about who comes in and out of her home.

“The eight that I have here are like my children, and I have to talk to you and know that I can trust you and that you understand my rules before you walk into my house,” Blaesi said.

Usually there are long waiting lists for getting in to child care providers and Blaesi says the coronavirus has changed that too. But the new website is helping.

“When someone calls and it doesn't work out for us, I can look it up and say, ‘hey, there's this website,’ give it to him and then say, ‘I'm looking at it and I can see that Julie down the street has two openings,’” Blaesi said.

Parents are able to go to the website and search by zip code for providers with openings available in their area. Brianna Beam is a parent to three kids. She lives in Guide Rock, population 208, in south central Nebraska. Her child care provider is 12 miles away in Red Cloud. There aren’t a lot of options where she lives. 

“I know in our area, there's just a couple actual registered licensed daycare facilities or providers,” Beam said.

Beam says the Nebraska Childcare referral Network is a nice option for rural Nebraska.

“Especially out here in rural Nebraska where we don't necessarily have a lot of options,” Beam said. “People might not know who they can trust for their child care.”

Beam works as a nurse with new moms. She’s been helping them find reliable child care options in their area with the new website. Another benefit is providers in Nebraska can reach out to each other for best practices and during this pandemic, stress relief.

“We are able to communicate more throughout the state,” Blaesi said. “We're doing Zoom meetings because nobody can meet face to face, which means people from western Nebraska and eastern Nebraska are coming together at the same time.”

Everywhere from Chadron, to Grand Island to Lincoln, providers have joined the weekly Zoom meetings. It’s become a place for them to interact other providers dealing with the same problems they are. This is also valuable for Blaesi as she can’t attend provider meetings in Eastern Nebraska. If she leaves, her day care business closes for the day.

“If I leave, daycare closes,” Blaesi said. “So I can't go to Omaha or Lincoln for meeting at two o'clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, but now if they have a two o'clock meeting, I can just Zoom right in.”

Blaesi says it’s also important that children who were in the daycare before the lockdown still have a spot to return to when things return to normal. Beyond the coronavirus, she says the Nebraska Childcare referral Network will have a long lasting impact on childcare in Nebraska.

“This crisis comes to the state of Nebraska and what do we do? We come up with something that is going to be amazing for us down the road,” Blaesi said.

The Nebraska Childcare referral Network is available at nechildcarereferral.org. It’s a free resource, there’s no log in or sign up. Of the 3,000 licensed child care providers in Nebraska, there are about 2,300, or 75% of them on the website with information.

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