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Guest Column: Shortage is affecting economic development

Live United by Sue Loch

Sue Loch

 

As the executive director of The Children’s Center, my days are a blur of activity! From little boo-boos that need extra attention, to begging for more funding, every day is different.  That is one of the things I love most about my job. Nothing stays the same and every day is a new adventure, especially when I look at it through the eyes of our precious children.

But one part of my job that brings me pain is hearing we had to tell another parent we have no space for their child.  You may or may not be aware of the fact that lack of child care is becoming a crisis in outstate Minnesota. Albert Lea is fortunate to have The Children’s Center, a nonprofit child care center who’s mission is “To meet the needs of the community by providing quality child care and education that encourages individual development in a safe, nurturing environment.” Our center has been around for 49 years and is currently licensed to care for 203 children between our two locations.

Although we are blessed to have two locations, we have 286 children on our waiting list.  That is absolutely unacceptable and almost inconceivable.  What is happening to those families? Are they settling for care that is not educational or worse yet, unsafe? We all have a stake in our children, our families and our economic viability.

In the past, decisions regarding both parents working outside of the home were considered personal decisions. But in 2018, most parents work to make ends meet, and the reality is this child care shortage is affecting economic development. If employees have no child care, they simply cannot work. 

I testified before a Senate committee in November of 2017 regarding the child care crisis. I have been reaching out to our state representatives and will be meeting with Peggy Bennett this summer. I am also teaming up with other community leaders to try to find solutions to help families in our area. We are hoping to possibly open a third location but also hope to try to attract more home providers to help fill the need. We all need to work together, as a team.

Because child care is heavily regulated and very labor intensive, the cost is high. We strive to keep care affordable; however, for many families, it is too much to bear. Because of the generosity of our local United Way, we offer sliding fees for those that qualify. This has been the lifeline many families have needed to allow their children to remain at the only place they have ever known.  We have had numerous parents shed tears when they find out we can help them with our sliding fee scale. For that, we are grateful to all of you who donate to our local United Way.  Thank you!

Sue Loch is the executive director of The Children’s Center.