Early education providers will use the money to update their facilities and operations, and create new programs.
Early education providers will use the money to update their facilities and operations, and create new programs.

Twenty-one early education providers throughout Indiana — and potentially more — will expand their child care offerings with $8.7 million in grants, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) announced Thursday.

“The first five years of a child’s life are the most significant to build a strong foundation for future success,” said Courtney Penn, director of FSSA’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning, in a news release.

About 55% of Hoosiers live in a child care desert, according to the Center for American Progress. The left-leaning think tank defines a desert as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that has either no child care providers or very few: three times fewer licensed slots than kids.

Penn said the grants would “help high-quality providers grow their businesses and serve more children and families, particularly in underserved areas of Indiana, or expand availability to priority age groups where care is often hardest to find.”

Her office awarded the grants to a variety of providers: centers, ministries, homes and public schools. With that money, they’ll add a combined 1,572 child care seats in 18 counties, according to the release.

Seven providers received up to $200,000 to update their facilities and operations and 14 received up to $750,000 to create new programs in areas experiencing scarcity. FSSA said additional grants could still be awarded. The money came through 2022’s Senate Enrolled Act 2, an education catch-all.

“This expansion grant helps to build upon FSSA’s recent work to help stabilize and grow child care in Indiana to support providers and build available child care capacity,” said FSSA Secretary Dr. Dan Rusyniak. “These investments directly strengthen the workforce.”

FSSA has recently announced other moves to bolster child care: late last month, it opened applications for a new employer-sponsored child care fund.

The agency has also awarded $542 million in stabilization grants to more than 3,300 child care providers hit hard by the pandemic, to help them fill staffing vacancies and maximize their seats.

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