GREEN COUNTY (WKOW) -- More than half of people in Wisconsin live in a child care desert, where there are not enough providers to keep up with demand. But there's an effort in Green County to change that -- and officials are hoping it could soon expand statewide.
The pandemic exposed cracks in Wisconsin child care that caregivers already knew were there.
"There already were three kids for every spot," said Corrine Hendrickson, who runs Corrine's Little Explorers in New Glarus. "I had a waitlist before the pandemic, and now I have nine babies on my waitlist."
She pushed through the pandemic, but many bigger providers didn't make it.
The trouble? A tough situation -- trying not to charge parents too much for care, while still trying to pay staff enoguh.
"As the pandemic started, we realized that the need was pretty desperate," said Green County Development Corporation Director Cara Carper.
Hendrickson went to Carper at the start of the pandemic to try to brainstorm ideas.
"We started really small," Hendrickson said. "We're like, 'We need soap, and we need sanitizer.' And she was like, 'No, what do you need?'"
Over the next several months, they developed an aggressive plan. At the center was an eight-week virtual boot camp to get people more interested in becoming child care providers.
That boot camp is being translated into Spanish, and soon Hmong. It's currently four weeks in.
"We're trying to build a pipeline of people who want to do this really important work of taking care of our youngest and our most needy children," Carper said.
Hendrickson is a part of it as well -- already helping newcomers.
"I actually am mentoring somebody who just got licensed this last Monday," she said.
In addition to the boot camp and mentorships, Green County is developing scholarships and other professional development workshops. It's also pouring resources into providing mental health support for child care businesses.
It's funded through the Small Business Development Center and other partners across the state.
Carper says they're developing a framework.
"I wish I could tell you that Green County was an anomaly, but it is not," she said.
With more than half of Wisconsinites living in child care deserts, the need is great everywhere.
But maybe, not for long -- if all this works.
"We're looking at how we can expand their ability to teach the same boot camp class and strengthen child care facilities and their businesses all across the state," Carper said.
Hendrickson said that she's hopeful that President Biden's $3 trillion "Build Back Better" plan will further help child care businesses with more funding and support.