Child care crisis exists in southwest Minnesota
REGIONAL -- Child care providers in southwest Minnesota are struggling to keep their doors open -- not because of a lack of children, but because of insufficient state resources.
REGIONAL - Child care providers in southwest Minnesota are struggling to keep their doors open - not because of a lack of children, but because of insufficient state resources.
Region 8 Child Care Aware Director Karen DeBoer has worked with the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council’s program Child Care Aware of Minnesota West/Central for 23 years. She works with child care providers from Nobles, Rock, Jackson, Murray, Cottonwood, Pipestone, Lincoln, Lyon and Redwood counties.
DeBoer said nearly all families in those counties don’t have a problem finding a care provider for their preschool-aged children, but it’s a different story for parents of infants and toddlers.
“In some areas it’s pretty dire,” DeBoer said. “I have heard some providers tell me that they have an infant opening in the year 2020 and it has already been spoken for,” she said. “Within the nine counties, there have been providers that didn’t want to care for infants anymore … but the need was so great that they were convinced to continue to care for infants.”
DeBoer said part of the problem is a lack of resources from the state, which leads to other problems such as difficulty in finding qualified staff, affordable program’s cost for families and meeting state rules and regulations.
“One of the main problems is that it’s only on the back of the parents and the providers, so parents can't afford to pay anymore and providers can't afford to cost any less,” DeBoer said.
She explained that before the recession hit the country in 2009, there were enough resources for child care providers and families, but after, a lot of grants and programs were taken away. Even after the economy improved, the state didn’t return all of the resources it had previously provided to child caregivers, and that's when the problems began to increase.
“I feel that we, as the state, have the resources that could be put in the child care field; that we need initiatives and we need dollars that are going to go towards full-time, and full year-round services for children who are zero to five.”
DeBoer said the state has been allocating funds for pre-school initiatives, but there hasn't been any effort to help families with infants and toddlers. She noted there are some resources for families looking for infant and toddler care, such as Early Learning scholarships, which help low- income families put their kids into a three- or four-star rated program. However, she said it isn’t enough to really solve the problem.
“There needs to be something that helps bridge that gap between what the parents are able to pay and what programs can afford to operate on,” DeBoer said.
Kids-R-It, a star-rated child center and preschool home, is one of 42 child care facilities in Worthington. It has provided services to infants, toddlers and preschoolers for 23 years. Kids-R-It Director Pam Duffy said she has a waiting list of 20 children - some who could be waiting from three to six months, depending on their age. She said a lot of families have come to her looking for spots available in the program even before pregnancy.
“We already have people who are wanting to know if we have openings and they are planning their pregnancies around the opening,” Duffy said.
Duffy has faced all of the problems DeBoer mentioned. She said that not only finding qualified staff has been a challenge, but also maintaining them in the program is also very difficult. She said center wages are significantly lower compared with school district salaries.
“Finding (employees) is very much next to impossible in southwest Minnesota,” Duffy said. “Then keeping them after we get them in this field. They get experience, then they can go to the school district as paraprofessionals.”
Duffy said her facility would be able to care for four more infants, but she hasn't been able to do it because she hasn’t found the staff to meet the teacher-children ratio the state requires. She added that with more state funding, salaries would be more appealing for child care providers and it wouldn’t be such a challenge to find them.
“We need grants and funding,” Duffy said. “We are struggling to exist and we work year-round providing care, from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and we get no funding, zero.”
In addition, she said that instead of just giving funds to school districts, money should also be given to qualified child care programs.
DeBoer mentioned the importance of quality child care programs since it plays an essential role. A lot of the child’s brain development happens in those years. In addition, she said having child care facilities available to families plays an important role in a healthy economy.
“We would always need places for families to bring their children unless families stop working - and we don't want that,” DeBoer said. “Child care is such a unique entity that the whole purpose of this industry is to help other industries succeed and thrive.”