A Collaborative Approach to Addressing Child Care Issues

Friday, October 19, 2018

Child care is a critical prerequisite to building a robust workforce. Lack of quality child care options can force parents to reduce their hours or even leave jobs. It also contributes to absenteeism. Businesses lose an estimated $3 billion annually due to issues related to child care.

In rural regions such as Martin County, finding child care can be particularly challenging. Rural residents often rely on in-home child care options, which have been dwindling lately. Minnesota lost over six percent of its in-home child care providers in the last year.

Fairmont has a potential need of 81 additional full-time, licensed child care slots to meet the needs of current and prospective residents. In an attempt to address this deficit, the city applied for and was recently accepted into the First Children’s Finance Rural Child Care Innovation Program (RCCIP).

RCCIP helps communities assess their child care needs and empowers them to develop solutions. The two-year program engages area stakeholders with an end goal of finding community-based solutions to increase the supply of high quality affordable child care

Jeff Andrews, business development manager for First Children’s Finance, notes that the first step is to identify why there’s a shortage of child care. Since each small town is different, the process begins with building a core team of community members with ties to business, educational institutions and nonprofit agencies.

“We assist and support the community through a facilitated process to figure out what the lack of childcare looks like in the community, to really get underneath the surface of the problem,” Andrews says.

Linsey Preuss, Fairmont’s economic development coordinator, is leading the team. Members of the team have participated in trainings to better understand the fundamentals of child care and discussions about how it impacts the area workforce and economy. They’ve been working to survey parents and providers as well as connect with leaders in business, education and philanthropy.

Shea Ripley is also a member of the core team. She’s the owner of Building Blocks Learning Center and Child Care — the only child care center in town. Her facility is consistently at capacity and she notes that staff turnover is one of the biggest challenges in the industry.

“Finding and retaining qualified staff is a huge issue. Child care workers are undervalued and underpaid. That’s a big reason why they leave the industry,” Ripley says. “The new child care options popping up don’t typically last long and a lot of longtime providers have closed.”

Ripley got involved with the effort on behalf of her staff. She wants to ensure solutions that give staff the compensation and respect they deserve for their hard work. She also acknowledges that child care needs to remain affordable for families.

Ripley says it’s been heartening to be a part of this collaborative effort and to see the wide range of people, from businesses to economic developers, child care providers and school administrators, working together toward the same goal — supporting families and the community. “For the community to grow, we need affordable, quality child care,” she says.

The core team is synthesizing their research and the community’s feedback into a summary, which they will present in a town hall setting on November 13. After the presentation, RCCIP will facilitate an interactive exercise to help community members brainstorm local solutions to Fairmont’s child care challenges.

Andrews points out that solutions developed by and for local communities tend to have the best outcomes. RCCIP will continue to provide technical assistance as the core team and the community determine next steps and begin working on projects.

Community members are encouraged to get involved. Area residents are can help by filling out the child care survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Fairmontchildcare by October 31, 2018.

The Nov. 13 town hall is open to the public and includes dinner. For more information and to register, go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fairmont-rural-child-care-innovation-program-town-hall-tickets-50192239339.

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