Becker County has been struggling with a serious child care shortage for years. Now, there's fresh hope for real solutions.

The county is one of six outstate areas in Minnesota recently selected to take part in the Rural Child Care Innovation Program, or RCCIP.

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Under the expert guidance of the nonprofit organization, First Children's Finance, the RCCIP is designed to increase the availability, affordability and quality of each chosen community's early child care and education. Over the next two years, the program will bring together Becker County parents, providers and other stakeholders to come up with right-sized solutions for the child care challenges faced here locally.

Those challenges are great, which was why Becker County was selected for the RCCIP. Since the program award was announced in July, about 20 volunteer Becker County and city, school and service leaders have come together to start collecting local child care data and begin planning some community-wide events to address the topic. They just released a community survey to gather input, and are also planning an open forum.

According to data the team has already collected, there are more than 640 child care slots needed in Becker County right now. Local daycare providers have been closing their doors in recent years, citing burdensome new regulations and problems finding and retaining employees. Working parents as well as employers have repeatedly voiced frustrations about the lack of daycare options in the area - especially for evening, overnight and weekend care. A 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment lists child care access as a Top 3 priority for Becker County residents.

"I know that we have a lot more (child care) slots needed now than historically," said Karen Pifher of Becker County Energize. "We've had quite a few closures of child care here."

Becker County Energize is an organization that works to improve the quality of life and health of Becker County residents. It's the official recipient of the RCCIP award, and as such is leading the program locally, along with a facilitator from First Children's Finance and the local team of volunteers.

"We've got a great group," Pifher said.

Becker County is among the RCCIP's second round of program award recipients. Since its inception in 2013, the RCCIP has worked with 19 rural communities in Minnesota to improve the state of child care, and has so far created 533 new child care slots through those efforts.

The other five Minnesota communities selected with Becker County this round include Fairmont, Howard Lake, Red Wing, Kandiyohi County and the Virginia area.

Child care shortages are a problem for communities across the state, Pifher said: In 2017 alone, there was an overall loss of more than 6 percent of Minnesota's available family child care.

According to a press release from First Children's Finance, the RCCIP program has two main goals: to strengthen existing child care businesses so kids can have the continuity of care that prepares them for success in school, and expanding the availability of quality care by creating new and innovative community partnerships.

For more information on how to take part in the community survey or upcoming open forum, read on. For any other information, contact Karen Pifher at 218-844-8379 or

Take the survey

Open to anyone in Becker County who has a stake in child care, but especially people who have or have recently had young children in the county, the survey takes about three minutes to complete and is available online at It's available now through November 1, at which point the survey will close and results will be tallied. RCCIP leaders are hoping to get an idea of just how big of an issue child care is here in Becker County, through questions like, "Have you ever declined employment or withdrawn from the workforce due to child care issues?"

Take part in the open forum

On Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes, the results of the community survey will be released and discussed, and some brainstorming for solutions will begin. A free dinner will be provided. Register for the event online at Event Brite at Seats are limited; organizers are hoping to have about 100 people there, including county and city officials, child care providers and parents, and anyone else who's interested.