Shortage of child care staff forces some Minnesota centers to consider closing – Austin Daily Herald
Child care staff shortages are forcing some Minnesota centers to consider closing
Posted at 1:32 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2022
By Peter Cox
Daycare operator Nicole Flick has no shortage of parents trying to find places for their children.
“The spots are there,” Flick said. “We just can’t fill them because we don’t have enough staff to meet the ratios required by the state.”
ABC123 Children’s Enrichment Center in Dilworth, Minnesota, east of Moorhead, is licensed for 173 children. But at the moment they can only accept 143 children.
Flick said she was in a difficult position. She can’t raise prices because parents won’t be able to pay more, but to attract and retain staff she has to raise wages. She can’t afford to pay benefits, putting her at a further disadvantage compared to fast-food businesses in her part of northwestern Minnesota.
At the same time, she saw the prices of food, utilities and supplies rise. She’s worried that she won’t be able to stay open any longer at this rate.
“It’s very difficult to try to just keep the doors open. That’s what we’re doing right now. It’s just about putting out fire after fire,” she said.
Child care facilities face the same staffing issues faced by many areas of care delivery, such as nursing homes. They have been able to find enough people to care for the children before, but parents are increasingly desperate for slots as the other branch of child care, home child care providers, continues to close.
Since 2002, the state has grown from 14,000 home child care providers to about 6,300 now. The number of child care centers remained stable and even increased a little during these years.
Now, some child care centers face a real possibility of closure.
“In Minnesota we are certainly seeing critical shortages, more child care is needed across the state of Minnesota, generally, and due to many factors, the child care industry of children is facing a staffing and access crisis,” said Bharti Wahi, the assistant deputy commissioner for children and family services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
“Rural parts of our state have more licensed home child care providers,” she said. “So the shrinking pool of providers there is definitely impacting overall child care capacity.”
“As a home child care provider, we are more affordable,” said Cyndi Cunningham, public policy chair of the Minnesota Child Care Provider Information Network and home child care provider, who said that she earned “a living wage”.
Cunningham, of St. Paul, thinks state and local governments could step in to help fill the void. She said smaller communities just don’t have the numbers to run a child care center, but they could support a home child care provider.
“There are people who could run family daycares, who could help their community economically and have a profession and help solve this problem,” she said. “We cannot continue to lose home child care providers and have cost-effective and affordable child care.
Clare Sanford, president of government relations for the Minnesota Child Care Association, says the labor shortage is most visible in care for the youngest children, where the required staff is one caregiver for every four infants, per opposed to a one to 15 ratio for school-aged children. .
“The real crisis is in infants and toddlers, that’s when there is the least care. We have the biggest shortage of infant and toddler spaces in Minnesota,” she said. “That’s when care is most expensive.
Having two children in daycare can cost parents more than tuition, Sanford said. Parents with two children in child care can pay more than $28,000 a year — for infants, it’s up to $330 a week.
Sanford says the government’s financial support during COVID, which will continue through next June, has helped many suppliers stay open during a difficult time. They are seeking state assistance when the Minnesota Legislature convenes next year.
“The key is really to increase public investment due to the failure of the childcare market. It’s a public good that supports the rest of our economy,” Sanford said. “People need us to be able to enter the job market.”