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My Point of View: It’s important to face the child care crisis together

My Point of View by Terry Gjersvik

Terry Gjersvik

 

We are in a child care crisis.

The shortage of child care is not just a serious problem for working families in our community, it is also an economic development issue. In April, I met with Ryan Nolander of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, and the first need he identified for our community was child care. We simply do not have enough child care providers to sustain our current workforce, much less serve new workers moving into our community.

Sue Loch, director of the Albert Lea Children’s Center, told me last month that they have a waiting list of 286. Think about that — nearly 300 children whose parents face the barrier of child care standing between them and steady employment.

In-home providers play an equal role in fixing this crisis.

Last month I held a listening session with nine local in-home day care providers. Currently, there are about 40 in Freeborn County. I learned that 10 of them will likely close their doors within three years — so we’ll be adding as many as 120 kids to a waiting list.

One provider said, “It breaks my heart to tell parents I don’t have room for their kids. I hear the disappointment in their voices when I say I can take their 3-year-old but not their infant.” Some said they wouldn’t have openings for infants until 2020 or 2021.

Speaking about how some families are forced to place siblings in separate day cares due to lack of openings, another provider said, “This shortage is splitting up families.” Others nodded in agreement.

Discussing what makes starting and maintaining an in-home day care difficult, the providers cited prohibitive startup costs and little guidance for those just getting started. In-home providers face long days — often working directly with children for 12 hours straight — and must also find time to grocery shop, clean up and complete paperwork. They also experience heightened wear and tear on both their homes and their bodies, and a startling number of providers go without health insurance for themselves because they simply can’t afford it.

Add low profit margins, stringent food program requirements and a multitude of state regulations, and you begin to see what these folks are facing.

My campaign has recently reached out to the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, and we’ve learned more about grants, training opportunities and other existing supports for in-home providers. We’re also anticipating the upcoming release of a study by the nonprofit First Children’s Finance regarding regional child care needs, and we plan to attend one of the two community forums FCF and Families First will sponsor later this summer on the causes and impacts of the child care shortage and strategies to increase the number of high-quality affordable child care providers.

Networking with these organizations and local child care providers, I’m growing in my understanding of this crisis, and we’re beginning to formulate potential solutions. Increasing awareness of existing state-sponsored grants to both incentivize new providers and support the longevity of established providers is one idea. Creating additional tax breaks for providers, establishing a formal mentorship program and revising excessive state regulations are others.

Child care is an economic development issue. In the most simple terms, businesses cannot thrive and expand without effective, reliable workers, and parents with young children cannot be effective, reliable workers without affordable, accessible child care. This crisis highlights how interconnected we are, how the success of each of us impacts all us.

Ultimately, we must find solutions that make providing in-home child care an attractive, affordable, sustainable small business option. Our economic development depends on it, and together I believe we can do it.

If you’re interested in working together on this issue or in other ways to make a better District 27A, please contact our campaign. Let’s work together.

Terry Gjersvik is the endorsed DFL candidate for the MN House 27A seat in November’s election. You can contact him at gjersvikfor27A@gmail.com, 507-320-9480 or through gjersvikfor27A.com.