Guest Column: Foundation addressing childcare shortage

Published 7:03 pm Friday, April 26, 2019

Guest Column by Tim Penny

Tim Penny


As the final snow melts away and spring flowers appear, our staff at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation is looking ahead to a busy year of programming for our 20-county region.

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This spring, our early childhood team has already been focused on providing trainings to area child care providers, while working with several communities on addressing the child care shortage.

Most people are aware by now that our state is dealing with a child care shortage that negatively impacts families and the local economy. One of the areas where we have been able to work toward addressing the shortage is through providing quality training opportunities for child care providers. It is critically important to make sure current providers decide to stay in the field. According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, Greater Minnesota lost 15,000 licensed, family-based child care slots between 2006 and 2015. Family-based child care is a challenging, labor-intensive field that requires licensure, ongoing training and long hours. It demands child development and business skills, and despite the strain on family budgets to pay for their child’s care, the compensation for frontline child care workers is typically low and offers few, if any, benefits.

Since we launched our Quality Child Care Program in 2013, we have held about 50 training sessions across the region to date, working with nearly 700 child care providers. A few weeks ago, we held two QCCP trainings, one in Byron and another in New Ulm. What struck me about these meetings is that many of these providers have been in the business for 30 or more years. As these dedicated individuals retire, we will need more people who are interested in going into the child care business to replace them. SMIF will offer more QCCP sessions this fall, where we hope to see many new providers.

Our early childhood team just began the process of working with five communities — Albert Lea, Austin, Eagle Lake, Watonwan County and Wells — on a new program called Communities Addressing the Child Care Shortage. Each community, which was selected through a competitive application process, will work with our team for six to 18 months to develop individualized action plans to address local child care needs. Oftentimes the assumption is that building a new child care center will solve the problem, but we know this is not always the case. Some creative solutions include partnering with faith communities or senior living facilities to use existing space, employers providing on-site care or sponsoring outside care, using existing commercial space, or attracting new family child care providers to the field. Naturally, home-based child care will also be an important part of the solution for many cities. We look forward to seeing the unique solutions pursued by our participating communities.

One opportunity for provider training will occur this fall at SMIF’s Early Childhood Care Conference, slated for Oct. 25 to 26. At this annual event, nearly 500 early childhood professionals from the region gather in Owatonna to get the tools they need to provide quality care. For questions about this, or our QCCP opportunities, contact Teri Steckelberg, early childhood director, at

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.