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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Center closing accentuates child care gap

David Colburn
Posted 6/5/24

COOK- Last week’s closure of Little Beginnings Preschool in Cook leaves a big hole in the community when it comes to child care options for families with children, at a time when the childcare …

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Center closing accentuates child care gap


COOK- Last week’s closure of Little Beginnings Preschool in Cook leaves a big hole in the community when it comes to child care options for families with children, at a time when the childcare industry in Minnesota is in crisis.
According to state licensing records, Little Beginnings had 24 total slots available, divided among toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children.
The closure cut the number of licensed child care slots in Cook nearly in half as the remaining two licensed group family day care providers, Jill Vito and Lora Klancher, are allowed a total of 26 children between them, from infants through school-aged children.
And while child care availability is definitely on the radar for working families with young children, it hasn’t been a major focus until now for city leaders looking into ways to make Cook a more attractive destination for young families. The Timberjay talked briefly with Cook City Council members Liz Storm and Liza Root after last week’s council meeting for reactions to the closure of Little Beginnings and the child care situation.
“For one thing, we don’t know how many children are affected or how many families by her closing, and is there somebody else who’s going to open up?” Storm said. “That’s a big question. This has been very, very important to people who live in the city. This is not a subject that we have currently thought about. That is something we will consider.”
“Little Beginnings was very influential and we’re so thankful they were there for so long,” Root said. “It’s a really good question, could we continue to support a business like that – we would love to. I think we’ll find more information out when we receive our needs assessment in terms of housing and families, but I’d be curious to learn how many families are affected by her closing, families in Cook in particular.”
Root indicated she would be open to looking into grant opportunities to support additional child care opportunities in the city.
Limited preschool and after-school care opportunities are also available at North Woods School, although exact numbers of slots were not available through the Parent Aware childcare locator service as school-based programs are not licensed by the state.
Barriers to overcome
For Cook and other small communities to increase the availability of childcare options, they will have to confront a child care landscape that according to 81 percent of providers in a recent survey is in crisis. From 2011 to 2023, the number of family child care providers, the most prevalent type of care in Greater Minnesota, dropped from 10,778 to 6,291. Meanwhile, the number of child care centers increased during that time period from 961 to 1,817, but that was not been enough to offset the loss of licensed child care slots in family day cares. Programs are closing at twice the rate new ones are opening as tuition and expense costs continue to rise, according to state data analyzed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Recognizing the severe shortage of licensed care and the costs associated with it, the Minnesota Legislature in 2023 took advantage of the state’s $17 billion surplus to designate around $300 million in new spending to support early childhood programs and families through a variety of mechanisms, including wage supports and scholarships. DFL legislators sought to add $500 million more to the pot in 2024 but did not gain enough support to pass the measure.
Family and group family day cares have traditionally offered the lowest barriers to entry for potential new providers, with minimal training requirements and less regulation, but that appears to be a growing challenge in Minnesota, as the Department of Human Services in April issued a 94-page document detailing revisions to family day care licensing requirements. Cyndi Cunningham, a longtime provider in St. Paul, told FOX 9 news in April that the revisions could cost thousands of dollars to implement, a cost that would have to be passed on to parents.
“They cut and pasted (child care) center law and put it in for us,” Cunningham said. “We are not centers.”
The proposed regulations include everything from the type of cleaning products providers can use, to the number toys each child must have, to requiring covering or soil testing if kids play outside near dirt.
The new regulations are part of a modernization project begun in 2021 that is intended to improve the overall quality of care while making the licensing and regulatory process less burdensome and time-consuming for providers. Some Minnesota family child care providers have reported that it took over two years for them to get licensed under the current system.
Limited financial compensation has been cited as a key reason for the decline in family child care providers. In 2011, a third of providers reported incomes below the state median income, while in 2023 that rose to half of all providers.
And according to numerous sources, the costs for making necessary modifications to one’s home and equipping a family child care can run between $10,000 and $50,000. That’s still well below the investment needed for a child care center, which is estimated to cost at least $95,000 for a renovated building up to $3 million or more for a newly-constructed facility.
Low profit margins coupled with long hours, typically 50 hours a week caring for children and additional hours doing planning, paperwork, and shopping, create stressful working conditions. Additionally, since the COVID pandemic, providers have reported an increase in the stress levels and inappropriate behavior exhibited by the children they care for, without adequate community supports to cope.
Still, as Little Beginnings owner Nancy Reing pointed out, for most who go into the field of child care, their primary motivation is a love of young children.
But with the increasing challenges, it has become more difficult to find providers like Reing, more difficult to recruit new providers to the field, and more difficult for parents in Greater Minnesota to find the care they need, let alone the kind of care they would prefer.