Southern Minnesota continues to face child care challenges | Local News


New grant funding from the state comes as child care centers in the region continue to face workforce challenges.

Candice Deal-Bartell, founder of the Cultivate Mankato Child Development and Resource Center, which offers child care at two sites, said the organization this summer had to cut back on hours, adding that even if facilities have the capacity, workforce shortages have impacted ability to meet demand.

“Demand for child care is probably more than what we can keep up with as a workforce. We would be completely full if we could make sure that we were able to produce the high-quality teaching staff that’s required. That’s where we’re stuck,” she said.

Deal-Bartell said when they opened, they offered child care between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“We cannot find the staff we believe it takes to run a high-quality program and we’re not willing to negotiate on that, so we had to reduce our hours to make it so that our staff that we do have doesn’t work a consistent overtime,” she said.

She added child care centers need funding to offer livable wages to people committed to working on staff.

“Obviously we need funding to support that. It can’t be off the backs of hardworking families, so we need federal and state support,” she said.

As sites like Cultivate Mankato continue to face challenges, the state has awarded grant funding to some organizations to help with similar issues.

The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation is among 17 organizations statewide to receive a portion of nearly $2.5 million from the Department of Employment and Economic Development to help increase access to child care.

The Owatonna-based organization serving the region received $200,000, which Vice President of Early Childhood Rae Jean Hansen said will be used to offer training opportunities to providers who might otherwise not be able to access it.

“A lot of providers, especially, let’s say they’re aging out of their career and they’re like, ‘There’s too many barriers for me to get my continuing education or I’m not making enough money so I’m going to get out of the field or I’m not going to start, it takes a lot of time.’ We can come and help them work through the barriers,” Hansen said.

Hansen said the training, offered to family-based providers, center providers and school-based providers, help professionals earn the credits they need to continue their work.

Training can vary from health and safety to math with early childhood and outdoor play space education.

“It’s things that providers say that they need a lot. We always get feedback from them about what are some of the areas that you can’t get training and it’s a barrier for you to take these trainings, so we do that for free,” Hansen said.

DEED’s Office of Small Business Partnerships Director Brandon Toner said statewide, funds can be used for a variety of reasons, including child care business startups or expansions, facility modifications, incentives to retain employees, improvements required for licensing and more.

“This is a purposely flexible source of funds for communities to come forward and innovate and develop innovative proposals to solve their child care issues,” he said.

Cultivate Mankato 2

Adrianne Trahms rocks an infant in one of Cultivate Mankato’s infant rooms.

Still, while numbers continue to fluctuate, demand for child care slots continues in the region.

June 2022 data from First Children’s Finance, which works to address business and finance needs of child care, show that based on the number of children younger than age 5 in Mankato with both parents working, compared to available full-time licensed capacity in child care centers and licensed family-based programs, there is a need for 416 child care slots.

New Ulm saw a need for 122 slots and Mapleton 67.

Compared to 2021, Mankato saw a need for 508 slots while New Ulm only saw a need for 12 and Mapleton needed 49.

Deal-Bartell said she hopes the Legislature will continue to fund state grant programs aimed at helping workforce issues, such as the Department of Human Services’ Child Care Stabilization Base Grants, which are slotted to end in June 2023.

“Once those funds go away, we have a huge problem unless the Legislature can get that back in motion.”

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