Editorial: Creative solutions needed to address child care shortage

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An ever-growing problem across the state of Minnesota, especially in rural communities, is child care. Where, when and how long the wait can cause parents in the community to become frantic as they attempt to balance their home and work lives.

But this isn’t anything new. Communities such as Albert Lea have seen a decline in the number of available child care providers in the past decade.

In southern Minnesota, there is a shortfall of 9,353 spaces for children 6 and under with working parents, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development.

Email newsletter signup

Parents who are looking for child care cannot wait until after the child is born. Stories across the state show that finding child care is a struggle, and the later you wait, the harder it is to find. Minnesota Public Radio reported about a woman in Bemidji that did not start looking for child care until nearly her second trimester of pregnancy. This left her with a tough decision — quit all but one of her three jobs.

In areas outside of the Twin Cities, there has been a steady decline in both child care centers and family child care. Since 2006, there has been a 2 percent decrease in child-care centers, while family child care has dropped 25 percent. These numbers are staggering considering the Minnesota Department of Health reports that 69,835 babies were born in the state in 2015.

Some of the reason for the decline can be pointed at stricter regulations, difficulty accessing training opportunities, providers getting older or better paying opportunities for those that traditionally gravitate toward the profession. Center-based child care also is dependent on the threshold number of children to make the center sustainable, which the Center for Rural Policy and Development has stated is harder for those outside the Twin Cities.

Raising prices isn’t the answer for in-home child care. Many providers have stated that if they raise prices, clients would drop out as they can’t afford higher rates. This leaves many parents and providers in a Catch 22.

One way of keeping costs down for rural providers is through scholarships for training and increases in the Child Care Assistance Program. CCAP allows low-income households the opportunity for child care while the guardian is working or pursuing higher education.

For child care centers, costs are also important. Child care centers don’t happen on their own in rural areas. Partnerships between providers, businesses, nonprofits, local government and religious organizations can offer creative solutions to the shortage.

With the recent reports of day care fraud in the Twin Cities, the help that rural Minnesota is looking for may be put on hold.

We encourage you to help support child care providers, and to talk with state representatives about the importance of child care in our community.

In order for Albert Lea to continue to grow, we need to make sure that our communities provide the right assistance and support for families.