Daycare providers, parents face off with countyWORTHINGTON — In a meeting that grew heated at times as angry parents and discouraged daycare providers faced off against Nobles County Human Services officials Tuesday night in Worthington, it appeared as though little progress was made in finding a reasonable solution to a change in the issuance of variance requests.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — In a meeting that grew heated at times as angry parents and discouraged daycare providers faced off against Nobles County Human Services officials Tuesday night in Worthington, it appeared as though little progress was made in finding a reasonable solution to a change in the issuance of variance requests.
The meeting, hosted by the Nobles County Daycare Association, was conducted in response to the county’s recent change to special exceptions that allow daycare providers to care for extra infants or toddlers as needed. In the past, providers have been given variances for up to 12 months, while the county is working on a policy that would limit the variance to a maximum of 30 days.
The change means lost revenue for daycare providers who want to be able to care for more infants for short periods of time, and creates problems for parents who want to keep their children together and not have to drive multiple places to ensure their children have a safe place to stay.
Several parents attended the meeting, including Bob Bristow of Worthington, who was upset because the daycare his children have gone to for the past six or seven years is now unable to take their infant twins. He said Tuesday night that when he called to the Human Services office, he was actually told that his twins may need to be split up and put into two different daycares because they weren’t allowing any special variances that would keep the babies together.
“My wife went into the hospital when our daycare got turned down,” Bristow said before a crowd of about 40 people. “That puts a lot of pressure on the parents when daycares get turned down. Why have such an iron fist? Why not work together? It’s not easy to find daycare for multiples.”
In another situation, Dave Reetz of Wilmont was angered because a Wilmont daycare provider is unable to get a variance for the new baby in the Reetz family. Without the variance, the Reetzes will have to take their infant to another community, such as Worthington. That splits up the siblings and also means their infant will need to be transported on icy roads during the winter months to a daycare 15 miles away — an option he considered more unsafe than if his daycare provider would be allowed to have an extra infant in her care for a few months or more.
“If we trust her with that (amount of children) why not — you are not her employer, we are, and if we’re happy with that, that should be good,” Reetz said. “Did you go into their houses and look at how they are with their kids? I think you guys sit behind your computer screen with too much time on your hands, I really do. Now I have to worry about which daycare my kids are going to — it’s bogus, it really is.”
As parent after parent spoke up, representatives from Nobles County Human Services offered little in the way of compromise.
At one point, Bristow asked if they could ease into the variance change, perhaps starting with not allowing variances of more than 9 months, and then reducing it to more than 6 months in a year.
Nicole Names, Nobles-Pipestone Family Services director, said the policy created by human services clearly states variance requests that exceed 30 days will not be allowed. The policy has yet to be approved by Nobles County Commissioners.
Krista Peterson, a daycare provider, asked why she and other providers were not notified of the plans to change the county’s system for giving variances. She also asked why they were not asked to provide input on the change.
“You guys made up your mind what you wanted the policy to be … but that’s not the way any of us were used to it working,” Peterson said. “You need to give providers some notification — they have to have time to prepare their families.
“I think the people have a problem with the way it was handled,” she added.
Peterson also asked why they began cracking down on variances before an official policy was approved.
“This isn’t something that just happened today,” responded Nicole Names, Nobles-Pipestone Family Services Director. Since January, the agency has received 27 requests for variances and approved seven of them.
Darla Sasse, a parent from Brewster, said, “Why didn’t you say to daycare providers, we need to set up standards. It’s been behind closed doors and none of us in this room have any idea what’s in the policy. I’m angry about it and I think you guys should have come to us.”
Tami Rogers, a daycare provider from rural Reading, said as businesses, daycare providers should have a say in how they are operated.
“With the number of kids Tami has, she has to raise her family on that too,” said daycare provider Darcy Poppema of Worthington. “What would all the businesses do out there if you don’t have providers? Last year I went in debt just getting to a year where I could get little kids again. How would you like your paycheck to go down just because your kids get older?”
Names said the state sets the rules regarding how many children can be allowed in a licensed daycare, and it’s up to the county to enforce those rules. While DHS doesn’t encourage variances, it is up to each individual county whether they will be allowed.
“Hearing from you does impact this,” Names said. “Whatever is decided, we have to talk about a start date. We do have to tighten up the variance guidelines. We can’t have no policy and have everyone going outside of the (license).”
Both Names and Child Services Supervisor Beth Mahoney, who have been in their positions for less than a year, said they came from counties where variances did not exceed 30 days. When they realized Nobles County did not have such a policy in place, they began working on one. Both admitted they did not realize it would create such an uproar among providers and parents.
“We have not come here tonight to say there is poor quality — there is good quality (daycare),” Names said. “Sometimes changes need to happen.”
In the end, Human Services officials agreed to meet with the Nobles County Daycare Association to go over the policy that was drafted. They also agreed to let the daycare association know when the policy will be presented to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners, as both parents and providers wanted to express their concerns to the board.