‘Where are all these kids going to go?’

Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 11, 2018

Shortage of child care providers causes strains on parents, economy

A shortage of child care providers in Freeborn County is reportedly hampering the local economy.

Local child care professionals say the problem is multi-faceted and includes excessive state regulations, lack of pay and other factors.

Sue Loch, executive director of The Children’s Center, said there are 286 children on a waiting list for her organization, and it is only licensed for 202 children.

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“That’s a problem,” she said.

Loch expressed concern about how the children who are not at a day care facility are being cared for or if a lack of child care providers was causing parents to not be able to work.

“That affects us economically,” she said.

The average wage at The Children’s Center is only $11 an hour, and employees do not receive benefits.

“The workers here are making terrible wages,” Loch said. “It’s like, it’s still looked at as sort of glorified babysitting. ‘It’s women’s work’; it’s not very well respected. So, I really have a problem with our culture paying (Minnesota) Vikings (players) millions and millions of dollars to play football … my staff, a lot of them qualify to get benefits, they get assistance.

“That is embarrassing.”

She said raising staff wages would make child care more expensive for parents. Grants are typically not used to fund salary increases and are not viewed as sustainable sources of revenue.

“I work really hard to work on morale and let everyone know how important they are, and just really do simple things like bring treats or give thank you cards with a little gift card in it,” Loch said.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett called the child care shortage “a huge deal.” She said she has visited child care sites in Albert Lea and has spoken to day care and early education providers.

She mentioned the House of Representatives has a subcommittee on child care access and affordability.

“This is something we are trying to address in multiple ways,” Bennett said.

Bennett is exploring legislation next year to pattern a child care provider loan program after Rural Finance Authority loans for farmers.

“This would help with startup costs for, say, a business that wanted to offer day care for their employees, would help with expansion costs for current providers, or to help providers purchase or upgrade new equipment, etc.,” she said. “This idea would be one way to help the child care access problem we are seeing throughout the state.”

Bennett plans to research the issue and talk to providers before next year’s session “to see if this idea is workable and would actually help with the shortage problem.”

Freeborn County day care provider Sue Rechtzigel said she believes the state is regulating home care providers as part of its goal to move the children from being cared for by home providers into day care centers.

She said regulations are “a little too restrictive.”

“It takes a lot of time,” she said — her business has to spend almost all its time attempting to comply with regulations and rules. Substantial time has to be spent studying and preparing emergency plans.

Rechtzigel, who has been a day care provider for 35 years, oversees 12 children and has three part-time employees.

Loch cited other companies in communities outside the metro that she said have had potential employees decline job offers because of a lack of child care providers.

Mankato-based company Taylor Corp. has opened its own child care center and reportedly funds 30 cents for every $1. The facility is licensed for about 100 children.

Loch testified before a Senate committee last November about the issue.

Loch has worked with city and county officials and has sent letters to District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, and District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea.

“There is buy-in right now,” she said. “I think the city and county is willing to put some money forth, and I think I could get some grants.”

Loch said the state over-regulates the child care industry, which is causing some child care workers to leave the business. She cited an aide who is a mother to three children who can’t be alone with children at The Children’s Center because of regulations. She discussed regulations during her testimony on the issue to the Minnesota Senate in November.

“Just because they don’t have the experience or education doesn’t mean they’re not safe,” she said of providers. “So I said that, ‘You have to change this,’” Loch said. “‘That’s dumb.’”

Loch said staff need to spend 2 percent of their yearly work hours in training, more than CPAs, electricians or teachers.

She said 10 local day care providers have recently announced their retirement.

“That’s 100 kids that will be needing somewhere to go,” Loch said. “Where are all these kids going to go, because there are not a lot of new day cares coming into existence.”

To alleviate the child care shortage, Loch advocated for people outside the industry to address the issue.

“People need to start speaking out and contact their commissioners, their city council people, anyone in leadership positions,” she said. “If they have a story to tell, they need to start telling it.”

To Loch, disconnect between home child care and child care center providers needs to be alleviated.

Freeborn County child care licensor Brady Engelby called a shortage of child care providers “a statewide and a national issue.”

He said employers are struggling to find employees because those employees cannot find child care. Engelby said a solution to the problem has not been found.

“That’s kind of the big kicker right now,” he said.

To Engelby, the spate of child care providers who have recently retired means there needs to be more child care providers entering the community.

“It puts a strain on everyone,” he said of the shortage.

Bennett said regulatory relief measures for child care providers passed this year, including the removal of a vulnerable adult training rule to child care services, which she said hampered the ability of child care providers to look after disabled children.

“This is huge for day care providers,” she said. “It removes burdensome training requirements that were intended to protect vulnerable adults, but which DHS unilaterally decided to apply to child care. Anecdotally, providers are avoiding disabled children because these requirements are so burdensome.”

Bennett said a multi-faceted approach needs to be brought to solve the issue.

She expects a recent audit into early childhood programs will find efficiencies in the program and will clear up funding for other areas.

Bennett discussed possibly increasing the tax credit for child care for low- and middle-class families.

She said there are issues with child care affordability and access in Minnesota. She noted the tax bill vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton included tax breaks for low- and middle-class families.

Bennett said there are too many “nuisance regulations” in child care, and there needs to be a proper balance between keeping children safe and ensuring there are not too many unnecessary regulations.

She said businesses are starting to open day cares and asked the state to encourage the growth of such day cares.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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