Osakis Voices: Child care crisis hurts area
We have a crisis that is hitting the homes, businesses and schools in our community. It is not a government shutdown, a stock market drop, or a Washington D.C. scandal; it is child care.
Let me quickly preface this with, the crisis is not that we lack good child care providers — we have great providers in our community — we simply do not have enough of them.
As a father to a 5-and-a-half-year-old (she won't let me leave that "half" out), I have some experience in this issue. My wife and I have had to make many decisions with regards to child care over the first few years of our daughter's life. I have also been involved enough in the community to see the same decisions we wrestle with at home filter through the various institutions and businesses in our community. I know I am not the first person to point out this issue. However, I think just calling it an issue and leaving it to legislatures to handle has only made the issue more of a crisis. There are complexities at all levels; the household, the provider, the business, the school, and the government. All parties need to be engaged to create the changes necessary to provide more available child care options, and at prices that sustain our providers, but also encourage our workforce to grow.
The lack of child care at an economical price is limiting our local workforce. The decision to have more than one child often brings up the conversation of, "should I just quit my job and stay home?" That takes a skilled person out of the workforce for a period of time, limiting the ongoing development of that workforce by putting that potential employee on pause, and further limiting community wealth and earning potential. Both the households and the businesses depend on each other. A consistent, developing workforce increases productivity that businesses and institutions depend on to compete and stay relevant in a global marketplace. Many businesses are actively making location decisions based on the workforce's access to childcare; if we don't take initiative, we will be continually behind the metro areas and lose the momentum that has been building in our region.
The providers have faced constantly changing regulation that increasingly hits their budgets and requires them to attend trainings, have inspections and limits the numbers and types of children in their day care. Many of the regulations have good intentions but need to incorporate some common sense and give credit to those providers who have been in the business for many years. The regulations are what wears out longtime providers and creates initial barriers for new providers. Just this past year we had a group looking to put a daycare in our downtown area, which lost momentum due to a lengthy regulatory process.
The schools are tasked with responding to the lack of providers by providing more options for families. Whether that's through all-day preschool or extended before and after school programs, there is continual pressure for them to serve the need. We have seen this discussion take place in our community, with passionate opinions on all sides. From my understanding, the core of the issue is child care. All-day preschool is and can be successful for children who are prepared for programs that are designed creatively to blend play with learning. In fact, many child care providers have these elements in their daycares. However, the lack of new providers has created a demand for more options in our school, and with other schools providing it, there is even more pressure to offer it to keep these kids in our school district. But, what we do not want is our preschools filled with kids who are not prepared to be there for long periods of time, putting an additional strain on the learning environment.
Because this crisis undermines community development, economic development, and household wealth, it is THE issue that government needs swift bipartisan support to help communities build more options without it being at the expense of existing options or in the sacrifice of children's wellbeing. If there was ever an area for government to prove to us citizens that it can be in-touch and effective, it is in child care. The solutions cannot be top-down, they must be bottom-up. The parents, providers, and teachers/administrators need government to collect their feedback, work with them to relieve pressure, and reduce hurdles in the ways that keep our children's needs primary.
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Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.