by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Finding adequate child care can have major implications for families and communities. A recent study noted a major deficiency in Winona County when it comes to child care. With about 533 more child-care slots needed, a town hall was held on Tuesday evening to review the study and suggest potential solutions to decrease the shortage.
A core team of individuals from throughout the county have been studying the issue. The team includes people from Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS), the Lewiston-Altura Public School District and local organizations, among others. They have collaborated with First Children’s Finance, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., that works nationally with child care providers, communities and the legislature on child care-related topics.
At the town hall, employees of First Children’s Finance helped facilitate discussion and presented the study conducted in October. Families, in-home child-care providers, licensed child-care centers and employers in Winona County were surveyed as part of the study.
First Children’s Finance Business Development Manager Teri Steckelberg noted that child-care availability has an economic impact on communities. She noted that for parents to go to work, their children must first be in a safe environment, and that by providing care for children, the workforce of tomorrow starts to receive its education.
According to the study, there are currently 87 family child care providers in Winona County.
Steckelberg noted that the study found it is difficult for child-care providers to make a profit. They may face issues with finding and retaining employees, a lack of benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings options, long hours, a lack of access to trainings locally and school-based preschool offerings drawing some children away.
The study found that factors influencing child care availability include a shortage of people working in the child care field, parents and families wanting more choices for child care, a need for community recognition and support of child-care providers, the cost of child care being high and the cost of delivering child care being high.
At a licensed center in Winona County, it costs about $213 per week for care for an infant and about $151 a week for care for school-aged children, the study found. At licensed in-home care providers in Winona County, it costs about $140 per week for care for an infant and about $128 a week for care for school-aged children.
Of the respondents to the survey of families whose children are not enrolled in child care, 15 percent said they have chosen to be an at-home parent, 15 percent said they cannot afford child care, 21 percent said they have adjusted their work schedule to be able to care for their children and 8 percent said they cannot find a good option for their children.
In the survey of employers, 63 percent said child-care availability has impacted them. They said they might not be able to find employees to fill all shifts and their employees might not be able to work overtime, for example.
In the survey of families, 29 percent of parents said they have had instances in which they have withdrawn from the workforce or declined employment due to child-care issues. When asked to consider the past 12 months, 31 percent of parents said they had been tardy to work because of child-care issues, 38 percent said they could not work overtime, 29 percent said they could not work a different shift and 41 percent said they had been absent from work due to child-care issues.
In the survey of families, respondents noted that family planning may be impacted by child-care availability, with 41 percent saying child-care availability has influenced their decision to have children or to have additional children. One respondent noted that they were concerned about having a second child as they had a difficult time finding child care for their first. Steckelberg said the study found parents attempt to line up child care very early in their children’s lives, sometimes before they are even expecting a child.
Town hall attendees suggested potential solutions for the shortage, from simplifying the process of getting a child-care provider license and mentoring new child-care providers, to supporting and sustaining a child-care provider association locally and collaborating with local businesses to sponsor spots at child-care facilities.
“We had a great turnout for the town hall with a range of representation from the community. Work groups had productive sessions with a variety of ideas to help with the child care needs in Winona County,” WAPS Early Childhood Special Education Coordinator/Transition Specialist Angie Lepsch said. “It’s exciting that we have some concrete ideas for our core team to work on next steps.”