Town hall seeks to problem solve child care issues
The tables at M-State Wadena quickly filled with parents, child care providers, employers, civic leaders and local elected officials ready to problem solve issues surrounding child care on Jan. 27. Child care providers asked one another about their level of work craziness that day and began talking through their experiences and solutions for more space in their home child cares.
The problem solving town hall was in collaboration with The Economic Alliance and First Children’s Finance’s Rural Child Care Innovation Program, with a specific focus on asking what are the best ways forward in Wadena County.
After taking a Business Retention and Expansion survey in February through April 2019, partnering with the University of Minnesota to analyze the survey and hosting a childcare trifecta event in May to discuss the issues of child care, workforce and housing, The Economic Alliance partnered with the Innovation Program.
“The biggest thing that made us apply is when we did our Business Retention and Expansion survey, 42% of the businesses who responded said that the availability of child care was either poor or very poor,” said Katie Heppner, executive director of The Economic Alliance. “So seeing the effect on our employers, on our workforce, just really made us as an economic development organization want to reach out and do something to move the needle on this community issue because it is directly impacting the economy.”
With the effect on Wadena’s economy and community, the conversation on the lack of child care has been ongoing. Within the Innovation Program, five communities will receive help to collect data, host a town hall, implement projects and goals, call people to action and learn from fellow communities in the program. The program is an 18 to 24 month process, according to Minnesota, North and South Dakota First Children’s Finance Regional Office business development specialist Kari Stattelman.
“It is not fast, community work takes time,” Stattelman said to the audience.
Stattelman reviewed data gathered in the last year on child care needs in Wadena County. There are 37 family child care providers in Wadena County, with the average business remaining open for 8.5 years. Within the zip code analysis, Stattelman shared a potential need of 503 licensed child care spots. The spots are for available children in the workforce, not including parents who had to stay at home because of not being able to place their children in child care.
Throughout the meeting, one of the needs that continued to come up was for infant care. Since each child care provider can have a select number of infants, the spots fill up quickly. Some parents in the survey expressed having to wait one to two years on a child care waitlist. With this wait, 65% of parents surveyed said child care is an issue in deciding to have another child.
During two group session times led by First Children’s Finance business development manager Jessica Beyer and project core team members, participants discussed ways to address the issues of regulations, training, workforce development, mentorship, business support, licensing, finances and appreciation for child care providers. Ideas on decreasing training costs, having free CPR and first aid training, decreasing regulations, having a licensing manual, providing mentorship for new and existing child care providers, having new legislation and partnering with underutilized buildings to increase space available were shared.
Numbers and issues like these are what brought participants to the meeting. For Gail Johnson, who has been a home child care provider for 32 years, the issues include wages, food costs and a lack of clarity on what counts for her 16 required training hours.
“I think I knew everything (discussed at the town hall) but a lot of things I could relate to and … I expressed them here, things that I’ve done to try, like about the food program called and talked to a senator … just different things that was a problem, I’ve not been afraid to just go and talk to them or ask them,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes future changes will help retain and recruit child care businesses since being a child care provider is "a big commitment." Stattelman also talked about the challenging aspects and that what providers do matters.
“I want to see the new people coming into it have these kind of things that we talked about. It’d be more helpful to get them going,” Johnson said.
With another round of thank yous for the participants, Stattelman said the core team will synthesize the ideas, post a Community Solution Action Plan on First Children Finance’s website and then implement the actions.
Child care by the numbers in Wadena County
Zip code potential need analysis: 503 licensed child care spots
Total family child care providers: 37
Average length providers are in service: 8.5 years
Less than 5 years of service: 43.3% of providers
More than 20 years of service: 16.2% of providers
Quality child care: 9% of licensed programs are one or two star rated, 9% are three or four star rated and 17% are star rated
Area market rates annually for family child care: $6,500 for infants, $6,240 for toddlers, $6,240 for preschool age children and $5,850 for school age children