This week, April 16-20, is National Week of the Young Child, a chance to shine a spotlight on the the youngest Minnesotans.

Lynn Haglin
Lynn Haglin
This week also can be a call to action across sectors to reverse our region's growing shortage of affordable, high-quality child care. The Center for Rural Policy and Development found in 2016 that Northeastern Minnesota has a massive child-care shortage: 56 percent more openings are needed to meet the demand with the need for infant and toddler care even greater.

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Meanwhile, the number of providers - in our area, they're mainly licensed family child-care facilities - has been falling for a decade.

This is an economic crisis. Parents need child care to work and support their families, and employers need an available workforce. The viability of rural communities, now and in the future, is at risk.

The Northland Foundation, Blandin Foundation, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation have worked on this issue in different ways over the years. Now, we are each ramping up support and investing more time, expertise, and dollars to increase child-care availability.

Early childhood has been a Northland Foundation priority since 2003. Northland's Parent Aware Pathways program offers training to child-care providers to enhance quality and to help them become "Parent Aware"-rated. As an Early Learning Scholarship administrator, the foundation helps connect lower-income families with scholarships for high-quality care. Child Care Grant Program funding of $125,000 helped five providers create 117 new infant, toddler, and preschool openings this past year. Another $90,000 in similar child-care grants will be awarded this spring.

The Blandin Foundation long has been a champion for growing the availability and quality of early-childhood education in rural Minnesota. The foundation provides significant annual support to Invest Early in Itasca County, the state's largest, rural early-education program. Invest Early provides wraparound services to 500 young children and their families annually. The program also helps college students earn associate's degrees in early-childhood education or child development associate certificates; both help increase the number of highly trained providers.

United Way of Northeastern Minnesota has been working on the regional child-care crisis since 2014 when it conducted a study of needs from parent, provider, and employer perspectives. Our United Way has since piloted a child-care expansion grant process, awarding funding to local providers interested in starting up new child-care businesses or expanding existing child-care businesses. United Way of Northeastern Minnesota also has funded local training and financial awards for providers who complete star ratings through Parent Aware.

Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, with the Northland Foundation and United Way, is funding technical assistance for start-up and existing child-care businesses through the University of Minnesota Duluth Small Business Development Center and with other resources. The agency currently is assisting two potential new child-care projects, facilities in Eveleth and Mountain Iron, that would accommodate 210 children. It also has made grants to two existing child-care facilities in Virginia for critical infrastructure upgrades.

All four of our organizations are partnering with Wilder Research to dig deeper into the child-care issue to quantify its financial impact on communities and the economy and to explore solutions.

A study called "The Economic Case for Child Care" will provide solid data to inform decision-making and future action. Results will be shared publicly this fall.

The Week of the Young Child is a time to celebrate children, families, and hard-working (though often underappreciated and underpaid) early-care and education professionals. We hope it also brings more of us together to address the child-care shortage. This complex issue will take even more investment, creativity, and cooperation to resolve. The well-being of families, businesses, and communities depends on it.

 

Lynn Haglin is vice president of the Northland Foundation in Duluth. This was submitted also on behalf of the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, and United Way of Northeastern Minnesota.