Child care shortage back on economic development agenda

NEW ULM — The child care shortage was back on the New Ulm Economic Development Authority’s (EDA) agenda.

Child care availability continues to be an issue in Brown County and Minnesota at large. A shortage of daycare is preventing some parents from returning to work creating a workforce shortage.

Brown County lead licensing social worker Laura Filzen gave a presentation to the EDA on child care statistics in the county, Tuesday.

Filzen said the primary concern of presentation was child care, but added there was a need for foster care as well.

Filzen presented the board with statistics on licensed family child care statistics for the last five years. In 2016, there were 84 family child cares in Brown County. This year saw 11 new licensed child cares compared to five closures. This was the only time in five years in which there was the number of new licenses was higher than closures.

Filzen said around 2016, there was a push from New Ulm’s EDA to improve child care. A task force was started that included other cities in Brown County.

By 2017, there were 90 family child cares, with eight new licenses but nine closures. In 2018, there was still 89 licensed child care but only two new licenses were issued and seven closed by the end of the year.

As of 2021, there is 76 licensed family childcare in Brown County.

Filzen said in Brown County there is a shortage of open daycare positions for infants. This is a state-wide problem. The issue is family daycares are by law restricted to only watching three children under the age of two. Of those three children under two, all three cannot be infants.

This means if a county has only 80 daycare providers, there might be only 80 slots for newborns.

Filzen said some families base their decision to have a child on whether they can find an open daycare slot.

The reason for most daycare closures is the provider has reached retirement age. More than 30% of Brown County’s child care providers are near retirement age.

Another reason for closure is providers seeking new jobs. Filzen said a struggle in daycare is it has no health insurance. Providers need to get insurance on their own and this is expensive.

Paperwork and training is another obstacle. Daycare providers have to fill out a lot of paperwork and conduct mandatory training as required by the state. Filzen said this cannot change unless the Minnesota State legislature is lobbied to make a change.

Another top reason for closure is difficulties with parents. Some families can be difficult to work with because their need for child care is great.

Filzen said there have been efforts to remove some of the obstacles. The family child care orientation overview is now online instead of requiring the provider to come into the office in person. The child care provider guild for new and existing providers is also online and updated regularly.

Recently SMART Steps pilot program came to Brown County. This program teaches providers methods for improving child brain development in a daycare setting.

A survey was submitted to Brown County daycare providers. There were 17 respondents. Of those responding, several intended to retire within the next five years.

Of those surveyed, only two had an open spot for an infant. One of those two was expecting to fill the slot soon.

The pre-school ago slots are the most difficult to fill for providers because many of these kids are attending pre-school.

The survey asked providers what were the greatest challenges of running a family daycare. Balancing time with their children and time management were top issues. Daycare providers had difficulty taking time off because there are no substitute providers available.

Filzen said a substitute child care provider could be beneficial to the area. This would allow the regular providers to take time off and make scheduling easier.

On the survey, providers said new daycares do not open because of the excessive paperwork and concerns about being filled.

Board member Les Schultz asked Filzen what the EDA could do to help license more providers.

Filzen said greater recruitment would always help. She said recruitment is not part of the Human Services job description, it is more of an EDA responsibility. Once a person applies for a license, Human Service will help them get through the necessary paperwork.

Since insurance was a common challenge reported by providers, Schultz asked if it would help for the EDA to create a fund to assist.

Schultz said the EDA has talked about daycare as a group for years. He wanted to take the next steps to find permanent solutions.

Board chair Daniel Braam said there was a positive spike in new licenses correlating back to the creation of the former daycare task force and outreach.

“I think we should look at formulating a task force,” he said.

Braam believes at the very least the EDA had to let providers or potential providers know the EDA was available to help.

City Manager Chris Dalton suggested giving the task force a limited time to formulate different programming ideas. He said the city already knows what the issues are in childcare, the task force only needs to provide input and feedback on programs to assist.

One possibility was to bring the task force to a special EDA meeting to present the input to the board.

Dalton said the EDA does have programs to assist, including a business grant. One daycare has taken advantage of this. EDA funding is also available for remodeling a facility.

Braam believed the one meeting task force approach could work. The board agreed by consensus to put out a call to the community from those interested in being part of a daycare task force and provide input for potential EDA programs.

Those interested in being a part of the task force are encouraged to contact the city.


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