Child Care Shortfall Creates Challenges, Opportunities
Sourcewell provides shared-service model around child care licensing
When we looked at the challenges for each county, we realized it’s two-fold. There is a child care shortage coupled with a shortage of staff at counties to process all types of licensing.
By Jenny Holmes
Research from Minnesota’s Center for Rural Policy and Development shows a massive child care shortfall, particularly in northern and central Minnesota. In just the last 12 years, the organization said the number and capacity of family providers has dropped by nearly 30 percent statewide – a loss of nearly 41,000 licensed spaces – with a critical shortage in infant care. Providers are leaving the business, and few are coming in to replace them.
This shortage is having an impact not only on families, but also on employers and entire communities. Child care is one of the top reasons for workplace absenteeism, which adds up to lost productivity, overtime, cost of temporary help, and finding/training replacements.
Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties – the area known as Region 5 – have seen and felt the effects of this shortage. For example, between September 2017 and August 2018, 10 child care providers in Crow Wing County and seven in Wadena County discontinued their licenses.
Reasons for getting out of in-home child care can vary from provider to provider. However, increased licensing requirements make the maintenance and start-up of in-home care more complex and stressful.
Amber Hennessey has been an in-home child care provider in Crow Wing County for the last 14 years and has witnessed many changes in the industry during that time, including a growing shortage of quality in-home child care opportunities for families.
“There is a two-fold piece to the shortage in providers, as I am never worried about not having a full day care,” she noted. “I am very concerned for the next few years though, as many in our area reach retirement age and there are not enough people starting up to replace them. It has become tougher to start up with the education requirements and paperwork needed. I believe that all of these are great for quality child care to be provided. People used to start to stay home with their own children due to costs in child care; but now, with what is required to start, people may not see that the work is worth the pay off.”
Hennessey said the opportunity to stay home with her own children 14 years ago led to both a career and resource for families seeking child care.
“I always said, once I had my own children, I would provide quality educational care for others in my home,” Hennessey said. “My favorite parts of being a child care provider are the cuddles and hugs, the light in their eyes when they figure out something new they've learned, and to see how far they grow from being that tiny, little infant all the way to a school-age child.”
The Minnesota Department of Human Services handles the licensing of child care centers, but it’s up to each county to license and support in-home child care providers. In early 2017, Region 5 County Health and Human Services directors identified a need for better support for area in-home providers. They connected with Sourcewell City and County Manager Anna Gruber.
“When we looked at the challenges for each county, we realized it’s two-fold,” explains Gruber. “There is a child care shortage coupled with a shortage of staff at counties to process all types of licensing. We were able to work with the directors to develop a cost-effective, efficient, shared-service model around child care licensing.”
Kara Terry, Director of Crow Wing County Community Services, says her county was pleased to partner with Sourcewell to not only provide resources to child care providers, but also allowing the work to be in a consistent manner.
“We have found great value in taking a regional approach to this work,” Terry said. “The consistency in documentation, contact persons, and expectations have been beneficial in providing clarity to our stakeholders and providers alike. In a time of restricted resources and tightening budgets, Sourcewell has stepped up to assist us in ensuring great work is being done!”
In August 2017, Michelle Tautges joined Sourcewell (formerly NJPA) as the Regional Licensing Specialist – essentially, a caretaker for child care providers. Due to the success and reception of the Sourcewell program, Alissa Erdrich was hired in May 2018 to serve as Regional Licensing Specialist for Morrison and Todd counties.
For the past several months, Tautges and Erdrich have worked in the Region 5 area of Cass, Crow Wing, Todd, Morrison, and Wadena counties to help streamline processes, provide helpful resources for current and potential child care providers, and create relationships with each provider.
“Adding these women has not only helped address the child care shortage but has also freed up the capacity of current county employees to focus on other licensing areas, such as child foster care,” explains Gruber.
From a provider’s perspective, Hennessey says having active child care licensors in the area has been a tremendous resource.
“Since I’ve been a provider for so long, it was nerve wracking each time there was a new licensor,” Hennessey said, “and there were concerns with them having so many counties to cover. Since Michelle took over, she has calmed many of these nerves by always being available through either email, phone calls, or even in person. She's already working on helping out with different daycare associations and trainings we try to provide to all child care providers in the area.”
Tautges and Erdrich have invested much of their time becoming familiar with each county, networking with providers, and familiarizing themselves with the challenges providers encounter.
“I believe it’s been helpful to have two people specialized in this area to help create consistency across the region,” says Tautges. “Each county has done licensing a bit differently, but we’ve been working on streamlining processes and procedures.”
“I feel that the Regional approach is essential to keeping consistency,” Erdrich added. “Michelle and I go over various items to ensure we are providing that.”
Additionally, Tautges and Erdrich conduct required home inspections of in-home child care providers, offer orientation for new providers, and help current providers with relicensing, which is required every two years. Tautges also created a website with resources and all the necessary forms to become a provider.
The women also plan to add an online orientation tool in the near future, as well as training opportunities to help build partnerships and increase resources, support, and education for those in the field.
On September 29, 2018 Sourcewell will host the first-of-its-kind Regional Child Care Network Conference. This event is designed for local, licensed child care providers to come together with other Region 5 providers for a day of learning, collaboration, networking, and discovery.
“We want quality child care in our counties for our children, so this is very important,” says Tautges. “I want to share that with our providers and support them by communicating requirement changes effectively and with ease so they will continue to provide quality child care for our families.”
To date, Tautges and Erdrich have helped 17 providers become licensed programs and have assisted with many relicensing and off year license inspections with providers.
“It’s my hope that, through this position,” Tautges said, “Alissa and I are able to address this issue and assist our counties in providing safe places for our children to grow and learn.”
Sourcewell (formerly National Joint Powers Alliance) is a self-supporting government organization, partnering with education, government, and nonprofits to boost student and community success. Created in 1978 as one of Minnesota’s nine service cooperatives, we offer training and shared services to our central-Minnesota members. Throughout North America, we offer a cooperative purchasing program with over 300 awarded vendors on contract. Sourcewell is driven by service and the ability to strategically reinvest in member communities.