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Area Communities Search for Answers to Solve Daycare Shortage
Post Date: Aug 10 2015

By Grand Forks Herald
When Jennifer Krom returns to work later this month from maternity leave at GHY International, a Pembina customs brokerage, she'll be commuting 50 miles one-way from Grafton, N.D., at least for a while. 

She'd rather live closer to her job. But she cannot find a licensed child care service for her infant daughter.

"I can find housing in Pembina. I cannot find day care," she said. "So, the next closest community would be Drayton (N.D). I can find day care there, but there's little or no housing available."

Pembina, a town of 567 located just south of the Canadian border and across the Red River from Minnesota, is trying to change that.

The Pembina Growth Committee is leading an effort to raise $94,000 to establish a licensed community child care center that would serve 25 to 30 children, according to Corie Koropatnicki, committee member. The goal is to open by October.

Pembina is just one of many rural cities throughout North Dakota and Minnesota where the child care crunch is putting the squeeze on parents, businesses and leaders who hope to maintain community vitality.

Each community, regardless of which side of the Red River it lies, faces similar challenges in available day care openings and adequate workers.

In North Dakota, nearly every county fails to meet the ideal threshold for available day care. To fill the gap, exacerbated by several closings, communities are exploring creative solutions through partnerships. Parents in Minnesota also struggle to find openings, particularly those aligning with family schedules, and the state's strict requirements for day care teachers make it difficult for providers to hire additional staff to fill the void.

Working parents
A look at parents' working trends and needs indicate a deficiency in available day care, especially in rural areas. Throughout North Dakota, the crisis represents an issue facing many communities.

"North Dakota is the second leading state for two-parent working families—and particularly with the need for workforce, quality day care services are essential to building strong communities and strong businesses," said Dawn Keeley, executive director of the Red River Regional Council, based in Grafton.

The regional council serves Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties.

"The child care crisis is just that—it's absolutely a crisis for small communities," said Allison Johnson, director of the Mayville State University Child Development Programs, based in Mayville, N.D.

Only two of North Dakota's 53 counties—Cass and Ramsey—currently meet or exceed the 50 percent "healthy child care capacity" threshold used by the North Dakota Department of Human Services Child and Family Services Division, said Jennifer Barry, early childhood services administrator.

"Statewide, we're in the 30 percent range," she said. "Even in those two counties, we see some parents who are struggling to find services."

Officials use 50 percent as the benchmark, based on data that show the remaining 50 percent of children of working parents have access to child care services from relatives or through small home-based child care facilities.

In Pembina County overall, licensed care capacity meets just 30.6 percent of the need, according the latest snapshot, in March 2015, by Child Care Aware North Dakota.

The agency estimates Pembina County would need another 165 child care slots to meet the 50 percent level.

It isn't just licensed child care services that are lacking. Many communities have seen the number home-based businesses dwindle in recent years.

In Lakota, N.D., for instance, a new community-operated child care center opened last month after three private home-based day cares closed within the previous year.

"One trend I've noticed is that our providers tend to leave the field and find new jobs quicker than before," Barry said. "We have fewer of our career providers. It's quite frequently because they have small children, and when the children get to school age, the providers find other jobs."

Filling gaps
In Minnesota's northwestern counties, parents also are searching for day care providers.

Parents seeking infant and toddler care or full-time care are the two highest groups of referrals seen by child care resource and referral agencies, according to a 2014 report from Child Care Aware.

The trend is apparent in northwest Minnesota, where Maureen Hams, community services director for Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, often receives calls from parents looking for infant and toddler care.

That type of care and early morning, evening and part-time care are the four gaps Hams sees as affecting the region.

To keep up with demand, Hams said establishing new day cares is one possible solution, and her office has talked at length about how to recruit individuals to the child care sector.

"I think there's people that might be interested but aren't sure what to do, so probably offering the technical assistance to someone who's interested is probably the most helpful thing we can do," Hams said.

The preferred route for child care providers in the region is establishing a home-based service, also known as family child care.

Family child care providers can be licensed to take up to 14 children under state law. The state sets staff-to-child ratios and caps the number of children allowed based on ages.

That means a provider licensed for the care of 10 children cannot have 10 infants, but rather a mix of ages.

Across Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau counties, there are 274 active licensed family child care providers and 14 child care centers as of July 2015, according to a Herald analysis of Department of Human Services license data.

The data also reflect closures, with another 18 providers noted as such before their licenses expired in 2015 or 2016. Ten of the closures happened in Polk County with remaining ones spread among Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties.

State assistance
In North Dakota, Pembina officials are awaiting word this month whether it will receive a $68,000 Child Care grant from the state's Department of Commerce. The North Dakota Legislature earlier this year appropriated $2.25 million to the agency to help meet the demand for child care services throughout the state.

The Pembina County Job Development Authority recently approved a $12,875 matching contribution for the project. The city also has approved a commitment of $12,160, according to Keeley, who also serves on the Pembina and Nelson county job development authorities. The state grant requires a 25-percent local match.

According to the plan, the city would purchase a 28-by-56-foot modular home in an underdeveloped park in southwest Pembina. Then, it would lease the property to a child care provider, who would run it as a private business.

The Growth Committee, which is searching for a licensed operator, is confident it will be in operation by October. If the venture is successful, the group will look to expand in the next few years.

"A community as small as Pembina, it's amazing how quickly we come together when there's someone or something in need, from fundraisers for someone who has been sick and hasn't been able to work to any number of things," Koropatnicki said.

Pembina priority
The Pembina project was launched after a public meeting last fall indicated the community's top priority was a licensed child care center. Affordable housing finished second.

The Growth Committee then conducted a survey to understand the needs and the urgency, according to Koropatnicki.

The two-week survey this spring showed the Pembina community had 40 children ages infant to 5 years old and 12 from ages 6 through 12. Of the 50 respondents, 35 indicated they would consider using a local day care center if one were available.

Several people answering the Pembina community survey said they knew people working in Pembina who would move to the city if they could find day care services, according to Koropatnicki.

Krom, the new mother who commutes from Grafton, is among them. But it appears she won't be moving to Pembina any time soon.

She recently found a residence in Drayton, which will be available in September. She had been on a waiting list since February.

"I would have loved to move to Pembina, and be close to work," she said, "but at least Drayton is closer."

"There's so many different things you go through when you're pregnant, so many other things on your mind," Krom said. "Day care is one of the last things you want to worry about. You just want to make sure that's taken care of, so that when the baby's here, you just want to focus on the baby, instead of, 'Oh, I wonder if I'm going to get to go back to work?' "

Average cost of child care

Numbers from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014

Minnesota
$13,762 - Infant in child care center
$10, 642 - 4-year-old in child care center
$7,547 - Infant in family child care program
$6,865 - 4 year old in family child care program

North Dakota
$6,822 - Infant (0-17 months old) in home-based programs
$6,653 - Ages 18 to 35 months old in home-based programs
$6,534 - Ages 3 to 5 years old in home-based programs
$8,211 - Infant (0-17 months old) in child care center and group facilities
$7,915 - Ages 18 to 35 months old in child care center
$7,507 - Ages 3-5 years old in child care center

Potential demand for children under age 6 (2014)

Minnesota - 304,951
North Dakota - 38,701

Providers

Minnesota
Child care centers statewide - 1,036

Family care programs statewide - 10,276

Total spaces/slots - 352,792

27 percent in centers
73 percent in family care centers (home)

North Dakota
Child care centers statewide - 1,348

Family care programs statewide - 361

Total spaces/slots - 28,873

55 percent in centers
45 percent in family or family group centers (home)

Referrals received by resource agencies

Minnesota
For infant/toddler care (ages 0-23 months) - 41 percent
For preschool-age care (ages 2-5) - 36 percent
For school-age care - 23 percent

North Dakota
For infant/toddler care (ages 0-23 mos) - 49 percent
For preschool-age care (ages 2-5) - 39 percent.
For school-age care - 12 percent

Workforce

Minnesota
Child care workers (in centers) - 9,560

Average annual income of child care workers - $21,710

North Dakota
Child care workers (in centers) - 3,316

Average annual income of child care workers (2012 survey) - $19,448

Area Communities Search for Answers to Solve Daycare Shortage - Grand Forks Herald
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