CANTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — The struggle to find childcare is one many families in the North Country continue to face.

According to local educators, due to the rural nature of the region, St. Lawrence County is considered a childcare desert, which is defined as an area with little or no access to quality child care.

“We just don’t have enough childcare enrollment slots to meet the needs of working families. It’s a struggle for them to find reputable childcare to accommodate their needs,” SUNY Canton Early Childhood Studies Professor Maureen Maiocoo said.

Although this is an issue that’s plagued over half of the United State’s population, it’s continuing to worsen in the North Country.

“The problem most families have, whether it’s St. Lawrence County or any other county up here is the distance,” St. Lawrence Child Council Executive Director Bruce Stewart explained. “[Asking] is childcare available on my travel route to and from work, or to and from school.”

To provide a solution to this growing issue, a collaborative grant-funded initiative will soon offer free family child care training in St. Lawrence County.

Participants will complete different components throughout the program.

The first portion will be led by the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, which will provide guidance with the New York State FCC Application process as well as assistance with regulations and licensing.

The Small Business Development Center will then take lead to focus on workshops and training. This will cover topics such as family child care entrepreneurship, business planning, bookkeeping and marketing and professional development.

“With the childcare industry, there’s licensing, and people start looking at that on their own and they get overwhelmed,” Small Business Development Center Director Dale Rice shared. “The process really isn’t that hard and there’s a lot of people that will help you along the way.”

The final component of the training program will include enrollment in a three-credit early childhood online course. This will be led by the SUNY Canton Early Childhood Program.

However, once the first portion with the Child Care Council is complete, businesses can be fully operational, and participants can begin running their businesses while finishing the program.

This program, according to program organizers, has the potential to increase childcare opportunities in the county by 10% with just one cohort, which is set to begin on September 1, 2022.

More information can be found on the St. Lawrence Child Care Council website.