Guest Column: Addressing the ongoing child care shortage

Published 7:48 pm Thursday, May 24, 2018

Guest Column by Tim Penny

Tim Penny


In 2016, Minnesotans were alerted to the fact that there is a serious lack of child care slots in our state leading to a “quiet crisis,” according to a report that year from the Center for Rural Policy and Development. It is clear two years later this crisis is no longer so quiet. A recent article from Minnesota Public Radio highlighted real stories from providers who are struggling to stay in business, and parents who cannot find care. This has become a major issue not only for families but also for the economic development of our communities and their ability to thrive. At Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, we are working collaboratively with numerous partners in the early childhood field to be part of the solution for our region.

Email newsletter signup

Providers are leaving the field for a variety of reasons, including low wages, high start-up costs and feeling undervalued. There is also a high rate of retirement without enough providers to replace those who are leaving. A 2017 update to the Rural Policy report estimates that there is a shortage of 8,805 child care slots in our 20-county region. We will have to grow our licensed child care capacity by 27 percent to fill the shortfall.

One of the problems cited by providers in the study was the difficulty accessing training opportunities. SMIF is working to make sure providers have access to the training that they need to stay in business and grow their business. We have been partnering with First Children’s Finance (FCF) and Families First of Minnesota, Child Care Aware Southern to hold Quality Child Care Program (QCCP) trainings across our region since 2012.

Providers who attend SMIF’s free trainings receive two credit hours through Develop, Minnesota’s quality rating and improvement tool. Attendees also have access to continuing mentorship opportunities and business coaching, along with free curriculum and additional free training opportunities. This program provides support that helps new providers get into the business of child care, and supports the established businesses we already have. Since starting QCCP, 609 child care providers have taken the training and 169 participants have moved on to Parent Aware, Minnesota’s quality rating system. According to the early childhood organization Think Small, providers that become Parent Aware-rated are twice as likely to stay in business than non-rated programs. For those interested in attending our fall Quality Child Care Program trainings, information is on our website at

We are also partnering with FCF and Families First to hold informational sessions this summer geared toward community solutions to the child care shortage. The forums, which will be held on July 31 and Aug. 7, will focus on the extent and impact of the shortage, the root causes, as well as best practices to increase the supply of quality and affordable care. Employers, members of local government, EDAs, Chambers of Commerce and those in the early childhood field are encouraged to attend these meetings with a team from their respective communities. Details will be on our website at soon.

In January, the Department of Employment and Economic Development announced $519,000 in grants for the Minnesota Child Care Grant Program, designed to increase the supply of quality child care providers in communities statewide. SMIF, in partnership with FCF, received $75,000 in funding to target communities that need more, and highly-qualified, family child care providers. In addition to supporting our QCCP trainings, the grant is being utilized to support new family child care businesses in southern Minnesota, with the goal of creating 10 new jobs and 100 child care slots.

As we continue to hear from providers, employers and parents that more solutions are needed, we are working to develop a larger pilot program that will address this issue in our small towns. The specifics of this grant will be unveiled at our annual luncheon in October.

Child care providers play a critical role in making sure that our communities and economies are healthy. We value the hard work that providers do to care for children in our region, and will continue to work towards solutions.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.