Worthington officials take action on child care shortage

“It needs funding. It needs investment, and it needs support and respect for the field itself.”

Stock image of child care.
Stock image of child care.
Stock image by BBC Creative on Unsplash

WORTHINGTON — Over the last several months, the child care shortage has continued to make both local and national headlines after the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, creating more obstacles for a struggling workforce.

The shortage of adequate child care is as prevalent in southern Minnesota as it is anywhere else, and in Worthington and Nobles County, officials are looking for solutions.

The city of Worthington commissioned a study to help identify the scope and size of the child care shortage and to recommend solutions. Created by First Children’s Finance, a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis, and completed in April 2021, the study includes an analysis of the supply and demand gap and a community survey, which showed a child care shortage range of 439 to 707 slots with 48% of the need being for infant and toddler care.

Types of Care Graph.png
The parent survey indicates that 74% of parents are utilizing paid child care while 26% of parents are not using paid child care.<br/>
First Children's Study

Conversations on how best to address the shortages are happening at both the city and county level, and Nobles County recently received a $75,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to investigate and create possible solutions to handle the situation. Similarly, the city of Worthington is evaluating how best to handle the child care shortage facing the area and has put together a group to discuss the matter further.

“At this point, everything is just exploratory,” said Mayor Mike Kuhle. “They've got a small group of county officials and city council members who are talking ... to see what we can get done.”


Kuhle stated that the city is examining a number of options on how best to address the need for child care, including securing grant funding, finding buildings in town that could be used for child care, and brainstorming additional plans.

“The time for studying this thing is over with,” Kuhle said. “What we need to do is get some slots open.”

Of the families interviewed for the study, almost 85% were two-parent families employed full-time with one or more children. Having available child care plays a vital role in allowing these two-parent families to continue to work full time and provide for their children, which in turn affects local economies. The parent survey also indicated that 74% of parents are utilizing paid child care while 26% of parents are not using paid child care. Out of the parents using child care, family child care is the most-used option and 64% of survey respondents chose that as their child care preference.

Program Type graph.png
Parents in the survey preferred family child care with 64% of respondents choosing that as their preferred child care option.
First Children's Finance Study

“There's a difference between the number of kids in a community and the number that will actually use a licensed child care spot,” said Karen DeBoer, the Region 8 Childcare Awareness director at Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council. “Also there's a difference between what is available for child care, and what parents are willing to pay, or what they're looking for. That causes some discrepancy also.”

As part of her work, DeBoer’s office operates as a resource and referral agency for child care providers.

“We do the quality rating system for child care programs, encourage and help them implement best practices while children are learning in those early childhood years,” DeBoer said.

Additionally, SMOC works with all of the child care programs in the area to help provide support, resources, technical assistance, and help get access to grants, training, and whatever they need to help stay in business.

Currently, there are 15 licensed family child care providers in Worthington, and 39 in Nobles County, a significant drop from the approximately 100 DeBoer said were operating in Nobles County at the start of her career. These losses can make it difficult for people to find the type of child care that best fits their needs.


Reasons for not enrolling.png
Not all parents choose licensed childcare as the best option for themselves and their children.
First Children Finance Study

“In Worthington, the two child care centers, they have openings,” DeBoer explained. “Why are there openings when people say they can't find child care? Because that not might not be the type of child care they are looking for. A study shows there may be 700 spaces short; it doesn't mean that creating 700 spaces will eliminate that issue, because maybe what you create isn't what families are looking for, or maybe not all of those families are going to be in licensed child care. There are many, many ways for children to be cared for.”

DeBoer advocates for a “multi-level” approach to address the child care needs in and around Worthington, by first making sure that resources are available to those who are already in the business of child care.

“If the only focus is getting people to start new programs, then we're going to lose those people that have invested their own time and money to get where they're at,” she said.

It’s also important to have a mix of program sizes, so parents have the option of choosing the type of child care that best suits their needs, DeBoer explained. Having more opportunities ensures a greater likelihood that parents will be able to find a good fit for themselves and for their children.

“That's what we want because kids will excel if they're in a program that allows them to excel, that helps nurture what their best interests are.”

The conversation around child care that is playing out now — not just in Worthington, but on a national scale — is one DeBoer says she has been having throughout her 32-year-long career working with child care providers.

There is a gap between what people can pay and what child care providers need to fund the work they do, and DeBoer says money is needed to fix it.

“It needs funding. It needs investment,” DeBoer explained. “And it needs support and respect for the field itself.”


It’s another issue identified by the First Children’s study, as the numerous rules and regulations, lack of benefits, low pay, long hours, and high operating costs make child care a difficult profession. Staffing is a significant expense for many child care programs, resulting in 60-80% of overall expenses, which heavily influences the ability of child care providers to sustain their operations.

“The last 18 months has been really, really hard on this field,” DeBoer said. “People are like, ‘Yeah, we got to do something about it, we'll do something about it.’ But it takes money, quite honestly. It takes an incentive to get into the business — it takes a reason for people to stay.”

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Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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