Sharing child care ideas

State legislators listen to area providers during town hall meeting

Photo by Deb Gau State legislators, including Sen. Gary Dahms, Sen. Bill Weber and Rep. Chris Swedzinski spoke to area child care providers during a town hall meeting in Marshall.

MARSHALL — Child care is a much-needed service in southwest Minnesota — but it’s getting harder for providers to stay in the business, area residents said.

At a town hall meeting with state legislators Wednesday night, area child care providers shared their frustrations with issues ranging from a shortage of workers to a lack of support for providers. They also offered their own suggestions on how the state could help.

Around 50 people attended a town hall meeting Wednesday night with Rep. Chris Swedzinski, Sen. Gary Dahms, and Sen. Bill Weber. The main focus of the meeting was child care, and people who spoke out included child care providers from both child care center and in-home settings.

There are a number of issues facing child care providers, speakers said. Regulation of child care was one. Providers said they weren’t against safety regulations, and wanted to get things right. But they voiced concerns about licensing regulations being interpreted very strictly, with little support for care providers.

“There’s got to be more protection. There’s got to be more information,” said in-home child care provider Michelle Vavricka.

Other providers said it’s difficult to stay in business, even though there’s a demand for child care in southwest Minnesota. The solution wasn’t necessarily as simple as building more child care centers in rural towns, speakers at the meeting said. Day care centers, and even programs like preschools, can mean fewer children go to in-home care. At the same time, providers are limited in the number of infants and toddlers they can care for.

Speakers said expanding existing child care centers is also a difficult prospect — both in terms of construction expenses, and in trying to find, train and pay qualified employees.

Amber Schaffran, a child care provider in Marshall, presented legislators with the results of an informal survey taken by area in-home care providers. Half of the survey respondents said their biggest challenge was dealing with Minnesota’s child care licensing requirements, Schaffran said. The majority of respondents said they were caring for fewer toddlers because of enrollment in voluntary pre-K. At the same time, respondents said they had very few openings for infants, she said.

“I do think the state needs to come back with a balance” for the ratios of toddlers and infants care providers can work with, Schaffran said.

Schaffran and other care providers said they knew state regulations were in place for safety reasons. But while safety for kids is very important, they said, there could still be a better balance to serve families and help care providers.

Care providers also said it’s not always easy to communicate with their licensers, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and other agencies that regulate child care. Having consistency among the different agencies could help care providers, said Kari Condezo with Southwest Minnesota State University’s child care center.

Condezo said voluntary pre-K could work in Minnesota. But information on mixed-delivery partnerships needed to be more available, so parents could choose where to send their children, she said. Money for voluntary pre-K should also be tied to each child, so parents are free to choose, she said.

Vavricka said Minnesota could work to help address its child care needs.

“Minnesota is an innovative state. Be innovative,” she told legislators.

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