How a survey could help child care challenges in Manistee County


MANISTEE COUNTY — Families throughout Manistee County are facing the challenge of finding child care.

Thanks to a program by First Children’s Finance, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization, work is now underway to find solutions.

The Rural Child Care Innovation Program focuses on mitigating the challenges of rural child care in greater Minnesota and rural Michigan, through the lens of rural economic development.

Hannah Rodriguez, who coordinates the Launch Manistee Network in her role as program officer for the Manistee County Community Foundation, said local entities have been working together to come up with ways to bolster child care in Manistee County.

“This whole process is being led by a cross-sector group of community leaders that are making up what we’re calling our core team,” Rodriguez said. “We have representation from our local school districts, the health department, other early childhood stakeholders, West Shore Community College, the (Manistee Area) Chamber of Commerce. So, a cross-sector group of leaders are really leading this charge and are in conversation about how we address these challenges.”

Rodriguez and Niki Schultz, director of Great Start Collaborative, are co-leads of the core team.

Launch Manistee, Great Start and some other early childhood stakeholders started to have in-depth conversations about the child care and education challenges the community has been facing, which Rodriguez said were only exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We started talking about these challenges we’re having and realized that we really needed to better understand what our child care supply and demand looks like, and where are those things not aligning,” she said. “I think that we needed a better understanding of what we currently have, if what we currently have is operating at full capacity or we need to see growth, and then what the demand truly is. What are parents looking for and how do we make sure those needs are met?”

Rodriguez said the core team decided to apply to be a part of the Rural Child Care Innovation Program.

The Launch Manistee Network submitted a proposal and Manistee County was one of the communities chosen to receive assistance through the Rural Child Care Innovation Program.

“This is not a financial grant — this is a technical assistance grant, so they’re guiding us through this process and providing their skills and expertise,” Rodriguez said. “… Only six communities in the state were chosen, and Manistee County was one thanks to — I think — all of the great collaboration that was already happening around early childhood that we could demonstrate.”

The core team started working with the Rural Child Care Innovation Program early this year, and the time has come to seek input from community stakeholders regarding the child care supply and demand in Manistee County, Rodriguez said.

“Recently, we launched surveys to three key groups: one to parents, one to our providers — so reaching out to our providers to better understand their needs, and one to local employers,” she said. “How’s our business community and our economy being affected by this gap, and how can we better understand that?”

The surveys can be accessed by visiting and will be open through early August.

“As we’re gathering that information, we’re also planning some focus groups and individual interviews to better understand those needs. Also, they’ll all be presented at a town hall meeting in the fall,” Rodriguez said. “That will probably happen later in September. We’ll be presenting all of this data and starting to talk about some solutions and some action steps that we can take to make sure (the supply and demand) align and that we can address the challenges that we’re having, both short-term and long-term, for our sustainability.”

Rodriguez said the data gathering process “has been a bit of a roller coaster.”

“We had to take the survey down and relink because it got spammed. We’ve had some challenges, but we’re on the right track so we reopened it,” she said. “It’s back available to folks. We’ve been sending it mostly through email because we learned social media is not the best way to share them, unfortunately. … We want as much engagement as possible.”

Lacy Crummey, Great Start Collaborative parent liaison for Manistee County, said a lot of solid data has been collected already.

“Before we had our hiccup, it was going really well,” she said. “We were getting great feedback, and feedback that we need from our parents in our area. Their voice is more important than anything, I believe.”

Rodriguez said the core team hopes to learn what it takes to ensure child care providers can have a successful business while still maintaining affordable rates for families, which she said is “one of the biggest challenges for the child care puzzle.”

“Part of the reason we have providers not operating at full capacity is because of staffing shortages,” she said. “It’s very difficult to find and retain staff when you’re asking them to retain higher credentials, do continuing education, and we’re paying them very little because we don’t want our families to not be able to afford care.

“So, how can we figure out ways to make a financial model that makes sense for providers?”

Rodriguez said Manistee County is only receiving technical assistance at this time but could look into acquiring grant funding in the future if necessary.

“We’ll definitely be looking at funding support that is needed, and how we might address those things, but in terms of what First Children’s Finance is providing, it’s really those skills, data gathering and analysis,” she said. “Then, eventually, connecting us to some other resources that they might have access to through their partners here in Michigan.”

To learn more about the Rural Child Care Innovation Program, visit

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