Childcare shortage: Becker County parents struggle to find licensed care

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Finding a sitter while the mister and misses go out for the evening may be difficult, but lately Becker County parents are also having trouble finding quality daycare during work hours.

"My job has been put in jeopardy again," said one local mom, Shauna Moran, who works as a resident assistant at Ecumen.

Moran was forced to place her three kids at an unlicensed provider for a time because there just weren't any openings at licensed facilities, and the unlicensed provider wasn't the greatest solution for her.

"She (the unlicensed provider) wasn't open early enough. Then she had to stop watching the kids, and I had to start looking for a new daycare again," Moran said. "I got written up for tardiness and missed work."

Daycare hours of operation are one reason parents are having trouble finding providers. Since many jobs (manufacturing, service industry, healthcare industry, etc.) in the area require people to work nights and weekends, and day care providers aren't typically open at those times, parents are struggling to get to work, and companies are losing their already dwindling employees.

Alice Meyer, a service worker with Head Start in Frazee, says she's seen the second- and third-shift workers struggle to care for their kids and work at the same time.

"Some families work opposite shifts, but then someone is losing sleep," Meyer said, adding that another issue is that even when parents can find a provider for one child, the provider often can't take all, so parents are forced to drop off and pick up kids at multiple locations each day.

But for Moran, all issues paled in comparison to the fact that she couldn't get financial assistance for an unlicensed provider.

"That has put my housing and my car at risk, too," Moran added.

And Moran isn't the only one in the community facing the toll of a daycare shortage.

Natasha Duel, another local mom who is also a student at M State's Adult Basic Education, says she and her partner are unable to both work since daycare hours don't work with their schedules, and she believes they are not affordable.

"We have struggled with both having a job due to no daycare, and daycare assistance still will only cover so much," Duel said.

Duel is forced to place her own education on the back burner so she can watch the kids while her partner, Dominic, goes to work to make ends meet.

"We think if day care was available and affordable we would be able to work more," Duel said.

It seems everyone in the community has struggled with--or knows someone who has struggled with--finding day care during working hours, and some parents feel the lack of licensed providers is forcing them to place their children in "uncomfortable" positions just so parents can work and make ends meet.

Another community member, Nancy Young, touched on the issue surrounding the daycare shortage during her run for a school board seat this last November, but the issue proved to be much closer to home for her.

Young and her husband had trouble getting their youngest child into Small Blessings.

"That took a lot of persistence on my part," Young remembers, adding that before they had to make the necessary decision to place him with an unlicensed provider.

Young said the situation fortunately turned out ok, but she knows that's not always the case and the need for day care facilities is high.

"We don't have a lot of actual daycare centers in our town," Young said.

Whether it's a daycare facility or an in-home daycare, there is a shortage of them, and both kinds fill up quickly.

One woman, Candy Schwarzrock, who has been doing in-home daycare for the last 30 years, says she has seen the business go up and down, but she says it's definitely been up lately.

At the moment she is full, caring for 11 kids every other week and, recently, someone asked if she would take an infant next September.

But Schwarzrock doesn't do waitlists, and she doesn't make a habit of planning that far out, since so much could change between now and then. But Schwarzrock says she understands the woman's fervor.

"There's always a shortage (of care) for infants," Schwarzrock said, adding that it may be due to the extra regulations child care providers have to abide by for infants. For example, infants always have to be in the same area, on the same floor, as the provider.

Having infants also decreases the number of children providers can watch, meaning they make less money, since income is based per child.

Providers also face regulations in general. They have to get licensed, have the fire marshall approve the house, and keep their training up to date each year.

If that's not enough to make a potential provider shy away from the business, there is the low-pay factor. One study showed that on average, they make roughly $6 per hour, depending on expenses and number of children.

Then, of course, there's the human factor, the Murphy's Law factor.

Like anyone else, Schwarzrock has to care for herself, but taking a day (or more) off to do so could seriously jeopardise her business because it jeopardises the jobs of every parent who sends their children to her.

In fact, Schwarzrock has to have shoulder surgery and will be out of commission for about a month this December and January. After that she will be able to take back some of the older kids part time and ease back into doing daycare full time.

"Then these parents don't have daycare for one to two months," Schwarzrock said.

During that time, those parents will have to find part-time daycare--an even heftier task, since many providers are looking to permanently place kids--and, if parents do find a new place to take their children, they may just stick with it, meaning Schwarzrock misses out.

So what is the answer to this multi-faceted daycare issue?

One option may be for companies to provide daycare facilities on-site for employees, and some local companies are beginning to look into it to get workers in the door, since businesses are suffering with a worker shortage that isn't projected to ease up anytime soon.

"We're currently having conversations (with businesses about child care options) in New York Mills and Battle Lake," said Margaret Aho, the Head Start director with Mahube-Otwa, adding that the issue isn't just in this area but all over.

Being that Mahube is a non-profit, state- and federally-funded institution, they are able to partially subsidize satellite daycare facilities like the Head Start at M State and the DLCCC--and they are open to having discussions with businesses about these options.

"We would love to work with any businesses that would want to work with us," Aho said, adding that they would even be willing to work with businesses as a resource for solving this issue.

But, she said, businesses have to know up front that adding a child care facility "is not going to be a money-maker."

"Child care is an expensive endeavor...People are in it because they love children," Aho said.