New parents spend months planning and preparing for the arrival of their little one. Parents often begin conducting interviews, going on tours, and trying to piece together child care options long before their child is born. It is essential to find a trusted care provider who fits both schedules and budgets because, after just a few short weeks, many parents go back to work.

Access to licensed, quality, full-day child care is one of the biggest challenges facing parents in our region today. We're in the middle of a child care shortage that has put a strain on parents, employers, and our economy. A recent study commissioned by the Northland Foundation and regional partners concluded that the number of family child care programs in the region has decreased by greater than 20 percent since 2011 while the number of children under age 6 with all parents in the workforce continues to grow.

Adding to the challenge is the complexity of finding a provider with an open spot for the right age(s), at the right time, and within an affordable price range.

Not only is child care a necessity for many families, the positive impacts of early education are almost too numerous to count. Time spent playing and interacting with other children improves cognitive development, socialization, physical health, and more. Access to early education and safe child care has a positive economic benefit, too, creating opportunities for more parents, specifically mothers, to enter or return to the workforce. It also leads to increased parental earnings, decreased public education costs, and higher potential lifetime earnings for children who experience programs focused on early education.

The YMCA is proud to be part of a solution to address our region's current child care challenge. As one of the nation's largest child care providers, the YMCA has a long history of providing child care and services, regardless of socioeconomic, gender, or religious status. We are committed to serving families from any income bracket because quality child care shouldn't be a luxury. It's a necessity, and it is essential for parents to know their children are safe, happy, and learning among friends.

The Duluth Area Family YMCA is excited to extend and expand our child care programming. We are extremely proud to be part of a solution. This fall, the YMCA will begin offering affordable, high-quality child care options for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers at the Essentia Wellness Center in Hermantown. We will serve more than 100 children and will provide full-day child care options for the entire community. YMCA members will have access to a free "Kids Club" program (up to two hours per day of fun and safe playtime for children aged four months to nine years), giving parents much-needed time to work out, enjoy a cup of coffee, or enjoy the many services of our new facility.

The YMCA is focused on supporting families and helping our community thrive.

The YMCA at the Essentia Wellness Center is on track to open its doors this fall, and we welcome parents to reach out and explore child care options with us.


Sara Cole is president and CEO of the Duluth Area Family YMCA.