While some may still struggle to find child care that works for their busy schedules, the availability of such a service is growing in areas like Wadena County thanks to a regional partnership.

Wadena County Human Services Director Tanya Leskey recently reported to Wadena County Commissioners that eight childcare providers have been added with five pending since a new collaboration began. Area counties within the Region 5+ umbrella, including Wadena County, saw all too often the struggle for some to provide child care, compounding the problem of those in great need of available, affordable care for their children. With that problem in mind, area human services groups decided to pool their resources with the help of Sourcewell in 2017.

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According to the U of M website, "The Region V+ Family Child Care Licensing Collaboration created an innovative solution for family child care licensing by combining the licensing roles of seven counties into three regional licensors. This collaborative effort addressed a workforce shortage, created consistency in the application of regulations across the counties, and eliminated the duplication of efforts within its counties at a crucial time when the availability of family childcare is hitting a crisis point."

This December, Wadena County is being awarded as a county recipient of the Local Government Innovation Award through the U of M Humphrey School for this innovative idea.

How it happened

The Department of Human Services handles the licensing of child care centers, but it's up to each county to license and support in-home child care providers.

"Region 5 County Health and Human Services directors (which would be for this project Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena) identified a need for better support for our agencies and for the providers," Human Services director Tanya Leskey wrote in an email. "We felt that we would be able to best accomplish this by approaching it from a regional perspective in this instance due to it being a two pronged issue-both a childcare provider shortage and county staffing shortage issue. We then reached out to Sourcewell City and County Manager Anna Gruber. By working with Sourcewell we were able to develop a shared service model that is more cost effective and allows for consistency amongst our region, which supports our providers by allowing a streamlined approach to things such as documentation and expectations, contacts etc."

The county funds a portion of the cost of a regional daycare licensure. Sourcewell recruits, hires and supports that position with the county providing oversight.

"It was a leap of faith for the board to support this because it has not been done anywhere else," Leskey said.

Sourcewell Manager of City and County Services Anna Gruber said in a press release, she is humbled by the honor and grateful to the partners who have made it possible.

"Being a recipient of the Local Government Innovator Award is not only an honor, but a privilege. We are fortunate to have great partners in our Region Five-plus counties to help promote innovation that's having a regional and statewide impact. This award recognizes not only the service, creativity, and collaboration of our region, but also the hard work and perseverance. We can't wait to see the long-term, positive impact this has on our family child care providers!"

This assistance has helped Wadena County staff focus more on another area of increasing need, child foster care licensing.

"As another positive, it allows the daycare licensor to specialize in this area of licensing to be an expert in these requirements, which is highly beneficial to the daycare providers considering one of the concerns the providers frequently have is that the requirements are increasingly stringent and can be difficult to navigate," Leskey said.

This project, the first of its kind in Minnesota, was difficult to gain DHS approval for, but since doing so, Douglas and Becker counties have replicated it, Leskey said. DHS wanted to make sure the county kept oversight of the project.

Since hearing that they are being recognized at the state level, Leskey said they are now being considered for national recognition and could find out more in April.

"This is cutting edge stuff that we are doing right here in our region," Leskey said.

Leskey said even with eight additional providers recently, the need for more childcare still exists.

Interested in childcare

If you're a provider or would like to be, check out Sourcewell's childcare website for more details. The website provides forms online to get licensed, and online training is in the works. Providers can also travel to Sourcewell in Staples and take classes to keep up licenses.