ST. CLOUD -- A statewide child care shortage is reaching “crisis levels,” according to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities - and local organizations are working to address it in the St. Cloud area.

The nonprofit estimates a need for 40,000 more spots for infants, toddlers and young children in communities outside of the Twin Cities metro area.

"The child care shortage has significant economic impacts, not only for families who can't find care for their children, but also for the communities they live in, and the local economies that affect that region," said Don Hickman, Vice President for Community and Workforce Development at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls.

Part of the issue? Fewer people entering the child care industry. Marcia Schlattman, Program Manager for Waite Park-based nonprofit Milestones, says child care centers are routinely forced to turn families away due to a lack of licensed employees.

Part of the problem is related to income, Schlattman says. The average licensed child care center worker in Minnesota enters the field earning $10-11 per hour.

By comparison, preschool teachers start at closer to $14/hr. For kindergarten teachers, the average hourly wage is around $31/hr.

"It's very low pay for a whole lot of expectations about what (they're) supposed to do," explains Schlattman. "So, there's a lot of turnover. There has always been a fair amount of turnover in child care centers, but we see it quite frequently now."

The issue isn't only with child care centers. According to the National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, the number of licensed family child care homes fell by around 35-percent between 2011 and 2017.

Part of the downturn involves providers retiring from the profession, according to Schlattman. High start-up and operating costs, long hours and slim profit margins are keeping new people from entering the field.

Gail Cruikshank, Talent Director for the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, says shortages of both center-based and in-home child care are keeping talented people out of the St. Cloud work force.

"We've got employers losing great people, because they find out they are expecting, and they can't find daycare, so they need to leave," Cruikshank said. "So, we're looking at what is being done on retention efforts to make sure they're a child care-friendly employer. Have they thought about how they can help solve the issue - not just for their own business, but also the community?"

Cruikshank says the GSDC is actively collaborating with area cities, businesses and organizations to address the issue of developing child care options for families. Some options include partnerships between nursing homes and child care centers, employer-sponsored child care, faith-based care and the "pod model," where several licensed providers share space - and operating costs.

The goal is to create stable solutions, Schlattman says.

"Relationships are not transferable. Even if we can get another body in (a center), it's a different body. It's a different relationship. Kids are negatively impacted by this turnover."

This year, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is seeking $20 million in bonding money for a new grant program aimed at constructing additional child care facilities in greater Minnesota.

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