GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County organizations that help provide child care are partnering to make sure parents know what funding is available to them.

More than a dozen groups held a meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss challenges and how to bring awareness to subsidy programs and improve access to care. Daniel VanderMolen, the project manager with First Steps Kent, said progress is being made but more needs to be done to better meet the need.

“For parents, it’s finding quality child care, it’s being able to afford child care. For providers, it’s being able to earn that equitable wage, it’s to be able to be sustainable as a business,” VanderMolen said.

Richard Bulkowski, the director of an Early Learning Center in Southwest Grand Rapids, said they cannot accept more students.

“The demand is so strong that you might not even get your child in the program. I know even just last year, we have some (children) who were on the wait list for the 3-year-old classroom last year and didn’t get in the program,” Bulkowski said.

He said a lack of employees has been a challenge throughout the area but the center has been able to run with the help of an apprenticeship program.

“We have a third teacher, but it’s a teacher in training, in each classroom,” Bulkowski said. “(The third teacher is) an apprentice, so they work right along with the teaching team. So when we have one teacher out … we have apprentices that can fill in.”

The Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative has been working to address the shortage of employees.

“One of them (the problems) is the lack of students going into the field. This field is known for not having pay equity,” Annemarie Valdez with the collaborative said.

The cost for child care can be especially challenging for working families and a lot of the federal dollars channeled through the state are not being used, Valdez said.

“We don’t really want to send subsidies back because it’s money that comes in we can utilize. It’s really important to raise awareness make sure information is available both to business and to families,” Valdez said.

Child care centers can often provide information about these programs and the qualifications. Parents can also check with their intermediate school district.

In addition to the benefits to children of early education, child care access can help improve the supply of workers in a tight labor market.

“This is looking at the parent side and helping to access and affordability and the main things that are preventing parents from being able to find child care and then return to work or to have those resources available to them,” VanderMolen said.