Worthington residents agree: finding daycare is a desperate struggle
WORTHINGTON -- The city's child care shortage has been a hot topic for years, but for the first time, a recent survey provides data behind the struggle for child care in Worthington.
WORTHINGTON - The city’s child care shortage has been a hot topic for years, but for the first time, a recent survey provides data behind the struggle for child care in Worthington.
The survey - conducted by the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) from March 26 to April 9 - received responses from 398 parents and 50 employers.
Nearly 80 percent of parents said suitable child care was either difficult or very difficult to find. Infant care was easily considered the biggest area of need, with 327 respondents saying so.
“Daycares are full,” said one respondent in a written response. “It’s difficult to be selective in the quality of care because of the lack of providers. When I first looked for a daycare four years ago, I was only able to find one place that had space for an infant. And that was because I was looking almost a whole year in advance. Every other place I called had no openings for close to two years.”
The survey says Worthington has experienced a net loss of 29 family child care providers in the last 15 years, and the effect has been significant.
Dozens of respondents said they were forced to send their children to family members or unlicensed providers for daycare. Those who couldn’t find child care and didn’t have another option simply left the community or quit their job. Cost, hours of operation and dependability were three of the biggest issues listed for those that were able to find daycare.
The daycare shortage complicates things for employers who already have trouble finding workers. Multiple respondents said they knew of people who didn’t come to Worthington because they couldn’t secure a daycare spot for their child.
Nearly 89 percent of employers said it was difficult for their employees to find child care.
However, in regards to fixing the problem, only two of 33 employers said they would consider providing an employer-sponsored family child care operation. One of 33 said they would consider providing funding to increase spaces in a child care center.
What to do about it? In a meeting about the survey results Friday morning, community leaders agreed that local action needs to be taken. But it is still unclear specifically what that action should be.
Karen DeBoer, Region 8 Child Care Aware director with SMOC, said interested parties could set up special family daycares in churches or empty facilities - for example, SMOC’s two Head Start locations will be empty once kids are moved out to the new facility on Pleasant Avenue.
Any nonprofit, business, church or community group can set up a special family daycare, which can hold up to 14 kids. It has smaller capacity than a child care center, but has fewer restrictions and is much cheaper and easier to set up, DeBoer said.
DeBoer noted that Lynd construction company D&G Excavating started L’il Diggers Daycare, a group family daycare, for its own employees. The company spent significant funds to renovate an old coffee shop.
This is a somewhat unique case, and as the survey noted, most businesses are not interested in setting up their own daycare, as they are generally not profitable and are difficult to staff.
Therefore, a public-private partnership, with contributions from employers and public entities, was discussed as an option to help set up daycares.
“If we can put ourselves in a position as Worthington to not have this problem, then that could be the difference in getting the quality employee that maybe has a job offer from Worthington, Luverne, New Ulm, wherever it may be,” said Jason Johnson of Johnson Builders and Realty. “To me, if we can get the quality people here and get the demand of people to want to come here, that’s going to generate revenue for the city and the county in the long run.”
Another possible option is a forgivable loan fund - an idea floated by Mayor Mike Kuhle and DeBoer in March - where providers are given money to make upgrades to their operation that they need to stay in business, move their operation or start a new daycare.
“Say a provider gets $5,000 to make improvements, they would have $1,000 forgiven each year they remain open over a period of five years,” DeBoer said.
Andy Johnson, Worthington Area YMCA executive director, helped facilitate the study. He said the YMCA has interest in helping address the problem and is hoping more entities will jump on board.
Survey respondents were split on who should be the leader in fixing the daycare problem. One respondent wrote “the city needs to meet the basic needs of the people, or the city will trend downward,” while another said they “would like to see employers start to offer child care on site.”
At the end of the survey, DeBoer recommends that serious resources are put into quality child care, noting that with tiny margins, family providers are struggling and child care centers cannot retain workers with the low wages they can afford to pay.
“Without additional resources put toward building full-day, full-time, full-year child care capacity, Worthington will continue to struggle with declining child care numbers,” she said. “It will be difficult to attract new people to the child care field if they cannot make a living.”