PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Non-registered or licensed child care providers can now register on the Department of Social Services website.
Previously, DSS only listed registered and licensed child care providers, while the actual number of child care providers remains largely unknown. South Dakota law allows for an in-home child care provider to have up to 12 children without registering with the state.
Atop the DSS database, you can now search for registered, licensed or unregulated child care providers throughout South Dakota.
DSS deputy secretary Brenda Tidball-Zeltinger told the South Dakota Board of Social Services unregulated child care providers would have to self-report their information to the DSS. As of Tuesday afternoon, three child care providers are listed on the DSS website under the unregulated provider type tab.
Tidball-Zeltinger said DSS is starting to provide information about non-regulated day cares to self report.
“We’re doing some targeted work in that area,” Tidball-Zeltinger said about non-regulated day cares. “We want to remove some of the barriers to become licensed.”
The discussion about regulated and unregulated child care providers has been highlighted because of the amount of federal pandemic funding DSS has received. Certain federal funds can only be used through registered and licensed child care providers.
DSS Secretary Laurie Gill told the board, which has two openings for new members, there was a lot of funding flowing into the state agency. For Fiscal Year 2022, DSS received $182 million in federal pandemic grants. The largest chunk was $126.9 million that went for child care aid.
Tidball-Zeltinger described the funding as “unprecedented” and noted typical federal block grant funding for child care has been around $21 million.
In addition to the child funding, DSS received $34 million for economic assistance (low income energy assistance), $1.8 million for child protection services, $2.6 million for the Human Services Center and $16.4 million for community behavioral health.
Tidball-Zeltinger described the hard process of using the large amounts of one-time funding, which can’t be used to cover any future on-going costs.
DSS was put in charge of this federal funding because the agency operates Child Care Services, which provides child care subsidies to low-income families so they can work and go to school.
“We all have an appreciation and recognition for the role child care plays in our economy,” Tidball-Zeltinger said.
Millions in federal child care aid still available
For Fiscal year 2021, DSS listed 549 in-home providers, 227 day care centers and 145 before and after school centers. DSS has distributed $32.3 million to 603 providers in its first wave of stabilization funding and $2.9 million to 70 providers in its second wave.
Tidball-Zeltinger said there’s roughly $24 million that could still be distributed and DSS is figuring out a plan to distribute it.
“It’s got to fall within the parameters of operating expenses for licensed or registered providers,” Tidball-Zeltinger said.
Gill said the additional federal funding gave the entire state a great opportunity to see if the current system is serving the needs.
Gill said DSS has options on how to spend $38 million in ARPA discretionary funds. The deadline for that money isn’t until September 2023 and September 2024.
Tidball-Zeltinger said there’s many current proposals including to conduct a study related to workforce and child care needs across the state; use the money as start-up grants to increase availability; support private/public partnerships for on-site day cares for employees; direct grants for health, safety and quality items to meet licensed needs; provide scholarships for people to complete child care associate degrees; upgrade software and technology used for real-time information; and streamline licensing/billing for child care assistance.
Members of the Social Services Board asked DSS about the gains and losses in licensed providers.
Tidball-Zeltinger said DSS saw 90+ family-based day cares stop being licensed providers when the pandemic started. DSS is trying to reconnect with those child care providers to see if they stopped for retirement or if they’d consider starting day care services again.
Another member of the Social Services Board described the extremely difficult business for day cares and the challenging work. There was also some discussion about on-site day care centers where a child care service partners with a business or an organization.
“One thing COVID did was show how important child care is to the economy,” Gill said. “It’s this big circle.”
Tidball-Zeltinger said DSS plans to continue to gather additional stakeholder feedback and develop a workplan for the funding.
Board member Cecelia Fire Thunder asked how many state officials are trained to work with child trauma. She said tribal schools could use more resources at the kindergarten through 5th-grade level to address child trauma. Fire Thunder described a tribal school kindergarten teacher who has 25 students in a class and sometimes can’t connect with an upset student who may be acting out because of a traumatic event.
New board member Stacey Tieszen said she’d also like to see some of the federal funding go to mental health training. She said many kids can get kicked out of child care centers because of trauma at home.
“If we have staff that are able to de-escalate that situation or have one-on-one time while they’re struggling, I think that’s huge,” Tieszen said.