Local parents face a daycare dilemma
WORTHINGTON -- Soon-to-be parents face many challenges, from preparing a new room for baby to stocking up on the essentials.
While many choices are to be made, nothing is often bigger than the decision parents face about who will care for their new bundle of joy.
Karen DeBoer, director of Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council's Child Care Resource and Referral program, said parents -- whether expecting their first child or their fourth -- all face the daycare dilemma.
"There definitely is a shortage of infant care," said DeBoer, adding that there isn't an abundance of providers to care for children of any age in the six counties of southwest Minnesota.
For Tammy Meinders, who has operated a daycare in Worthington for 19 years, staying at capacity hasn't been a problem.
"I'm usually always full," she said, noting she has no openings at this point. Her next available opening for an infant won't be until March 2007 at the earliest, she said.
Meinders is one of many providers in the area who have had to turn away parents of infants in recent months.
According to DeBoer, 12 daycares will not have an infant opening until 2008, 74 won't have an infant opening until 2007, and 34 can't accept an infant until the start of the new school year in 2006. That's a harsh reality for the 83 percent of families who sought child care for a baby younger than 12 months old during the last year.
So is there a baby boom going on in southwest Minnesota, or are there just fewer people willing to take on the responsibility of caring for children?
Meinders believes it is the latter.
"I have heard of a few daycares that have quit," she said. "That could be part of it. Also, there's not enough people becoming licensed. The State of Minnesota is changing its rules, and it's harder to become a licensed provider. ...I think it's turning a lot of people away from it."
Cari Schreier, a daycare provider in Slayton and treasurer of the Murray County Family Child Care Association, said state mandates and paperwork make it less appealing for people to enter the arena of child care.
A number of mandates went into effect Jan. 1, including that providers caring for infants attend trainings on shaken baby syndrome and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). If they do any transport of children, they must attend car restraint training.
"If you have a substitute if you leave for even a half hour, they have to be certified in CPR and First Aid," Schreier said. "For someone like me, who needs to get out about two or three times per year, it's frustrating."
The trainings take time, and don't come without a cost, Schreier said. Also, with the required paperwork, she said it leaves either less time to spend with the daycare children or with her own family.
Paperwork must be completed on everything from what foods each child ate for lunch to the time of their daily arrival and departure.
"We have to do a monthly inspection on our cribs, and twice a year for licensing we have to document any kids we've had in the past (six months), whether it was a drop-in or not," Schreier added.
DeBoer said that around 2000, there was a noticeable drop in the number of child care providers in southwest Minnesota -- due in part to increased regulations at that time. More recently, the number of available providers has stabilized, she added.
Today, there are 284 licensed child care facilities in the southwest Minnesota counties of Rock, Pipestone, Nobles, Murray, Jackson and Cottonwood. Of those, 238 are licensed as family child care providers, 10 are child care centers, 23 are considered pre-schools, nine are Head Start facilities and four are geared specifically to school-aged children.
The 238 licensed family child care providers can care for an estimated 2,700 children and, according to the latest information available, there are 260 openings in those settings. Few of them, however, are for infants.
Due to the lack of available infant care, DeBoer said many parents begin seeking a provider at least six months before the birth of their child.
"If a family is with a provider, sometimes they ask when there is an infant opening (in planning their next child)," DeBoer said.
Daycare providers can obtain different levels of licensure. Those in their first year as a provider can care for a maximum of 10 children, of which only two can be younger than 12 months of age. After the first year, providers can care for a maximum of 12 children at any one time. The two-infant rule remains in effect for all licensing stages.
Schreier said nine of the 14 children she's licensed to care for will be considered school-aged children as of Friday. That makes it difficult for her to take younger children into her care.
"I was fortunate for this school year that I was able to take other families, but they knew that the kids needed to be picked up by 3:30 when the school-age kids arrived, and that I wouldn't be able to take them on non-school days," Schreier said.
At a time when more parents are seeking care for their young children, DeBoer said the hourly rate paid to daycare providers hasn't kept pace with supply and demand.
In Jackson County, she said, the average hourly rate paid to daycare providers caring for school-aged children has gone up just 3 cents in the last three years, from $1.92 to $1.95 per hour. Nobles County, on the other hand, noted just a 5-cent per hour increase for infant care in the past three years, from $1.94 to $1.99 per hour.
Just as families believe they can't afford to pay more for child care, providers believe they can't afford to take less, DeBoer said.
"Sometimes there needs to be more of a balance," she added. "We can't afford to have the individuals raising our children (earning) next to nothing."