WORTHINGTON — Over the past few months, the shortage of child care services has continued to
headlines after the COVID-19 pandemic made the problem worse, creating more hurdles for a struggling workforce.
The shortage of adequate child care is as widespread in southern Minnesota as anywhere, and in Worthington and Nobles County, authorities are looking for solutions.
The City of Worthington commissioned a study to help determine the extent and depth of the child care shortage and to recommend solutions. Created by First Children’s Finance, a Minneapolis-based national nonprofit, and completed in April 2021, the study includes a supply-demand gap analysis and a community survey, which showed a shortage of childcare services ranging from 439 to 707 spaces with 48% of the need being for infant and toddler care.
Conversations about how best to address shortages are happening at both the city and county level, and Nobles County recently received a $75,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Jobs 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 area’s child care shortage and has set up a panel to discuss the issue further.
“At this point, it’s all just exploratory,” Mayor Mike Kuhle said. “They have a small group of county officials and city council members talking … to see what we can do.”
Kuhle said the city is looking at a number of options on how best to meet the need for child care, including getting grants, finding buildings in town that could be used for child care, children and thinking about additional plans.
“The time to study this thing is over,” Kuhle said. “What we need to do is open up slots.”
Of the families interviewed for the study, nearly 85% were two-parent, full-time employed families with one or more children. The availability of childcare services plays a critical role in enabling these two-parent families to continue working full time and supporting their children, which, in turn, affects local economies. The parent survey also indicated that 74% of parents use paid child care while 26% of parents do not use paid child care. Among parents who use child care, home child care is the most used option and 64% of survey respondents chose it as their child care preference.
“There is a difference between the number of children in a community and the number that will actually use a licensed child care space,” said Karen DeBoer, Director of Child Care Outreach for Region 8. at the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council. “There is also a difference between what is available for childcare and what parents are willing to pay or what they are looking for. This also causes discrepancies.
As part of its work, DeBoer’s office functions as a resource and referral agency for child care providers.
“We create the system for evaluating the quality of child care programs, encouraging them and helping them implement best practices as children learn in those early childhood years,” DeBoer said.
Additionally, SMOC works with all child care programs in the region to help provide support, resources, technical assistance, and help access subsidies, training, and anything else they need to stay in business.
Currently, there are 15 licensed home child care providers in Worthington and 39 in Nobles County, a significant drop from the roughly 100 DeBoers that DeBoer said operated in Nobles County early in his career. These losses can make it difficult for people to find the type of child care that best suits their needs.
“In Worthington, both daycares have openings,” DeBoer explained. “Why are there openings when people say they can’t find a daycare? Because it may not be the type of child care they are looking for. A study shows that there may be a shortage of 700 places; it doesn’t mean that creating 700 spaces will eliminate that problem, because what you’re creating may not be what families are looking for, or maybe not all of those families will be in licensed child care. There are many, many ways to take care of children. »
DeBoer advocates a “tiered” approach to meeting childcare needs in and around Worthington, first ensuring that resources are available for those already in the childcare business. children.
“If the only goal is to get people to start new programs, then we’re going to lose those who have invested their time and money to get where they are,” she said.
It’s also important to have a mix of program sizes, so parents have the flexibility to choose 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 their children.
“That’s what we want because kids are going to excel if they’re in a program that allows them to excel, that helps nurture their best interests.
The conversation around child care that’s going on right now — not just in Worthington, but nationally — is one DeBoer says he’s had throughout his 32-year career with child care providers. keep.
There’s a gap between what people can afford and what child care providers need to fund the work they do, and DeBoer says money is needed to close it.
“He needs funding. It needs investment,” DeBoer explained. “And he needs support and respect for the pitch itself.”
This is another issue identified by the First Children study, as numerous rules and regulations, lack of benefits, low wages, long hours and high running costs make childcare a difficult profession. Staffing is a major expense for many child care programs, accounting for 60-80% of overall expenses, which strongly impacts the ability of child care providers to maintain operations.
“The last 18 months have been really, really tough on this court,” DeBoer said. “People are like, ‘Yeah, we have to do something about this, we’re going to do something about this.’ But it takes money, quite honestly. It takes an incentive to get into the business – it takes a reason for people to stay.