Child care

A new report from the University of Minnesota delves into child care access across the state.

A recent report from the University of Minnesota reveals new data about child care statewide, including McLeod and Meeker counties.

Primarily in map form, data gathered by the university’s Department of Applied Economics suggests Litchfield School District averages 0.47 slots per child and ranks 206 out of Minnesota's 332 districts. Hutchinson school district averages 0.61 child care openings per child, just above the state average of 0.55. It ranks 110.

The data based its rankings on factors such as access to child care, rating of child care services, availability of open child care slots and cost of child care services. About 730 children under age 5 live in 520 families in Litchfield School District. Statewide, about 349,270 such children live in 259,510 families. School district here refers to the district boundaries and not the district itself. The numbers include slots at child care centers, licensed family child care providers and public providers.

The study's methodology suggested that a family has greater access to child care if families have more slots near their home and few children nearer those slots; low prices and travel times to those slots; or if those slots are highly-rated. Other data includes the average cost of child care, which is $147 per week in Litchfield, ranked 256 in cost, and $150 per week in Hutchinson, ranked 262. The Litchfield district ranked 140 of 332 in the report’s overall access index, an equally-weighted average of each district’s cost, quantity and quality. Hutchinson ranked 195.

On the county level, McLeod ranked 30 out of 87 in child care quantity with 0.61 slots available per child. Meeker County ranked 70 of 87 at 0.44 slots per child. However, Meeker County’s child care quality ranked 17 of 87. McLeod ranked 51, meaning 81 percent of McLeod County families have worse-quality access than the state average. An area’s quality rating depends on the amount of nearby highly-rated child care slots.

For House District 18A — which represents Cedar Mills, Eden Valley, Litchfield, Kingston, Darwin, Dassel, Cokato and parts of Hutchinson — ranked No. 88 out of 134 districts in child care quantity with 0.46 slots available per child. House District 18B — which is composed of parts of Hutchinson, Glencoe, Biscay, Silver Lake, Winthrop, Gibbon, Brownton and Winsted — ranked No. 44 out of 134 districts in child care quantity with 0.58 slots available per child.

Rep. Collin Peterson and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler recently introduced a bipartisan bill to address child care shortages in Greater Minnesota. The bill will reportedly provide “competitive” grants to support education, training and retention of the child care workforce and the renovation of child care facilities. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Dan Sullivan introduced a companion bill at the Senate.

“The lack of access to affordable, quality child care in rural America hurts not only families but also employers,” Peterson said in a press release. “Our rural communities face many challenges, and this bipartisan bill takes steps to ensure that these communities have the same access to child care as the folks living in urban areas.”

According to Jodie Maertens, Southwest Initiative Foundation youth and family officer, child care has high employee turnover, leading to shortages. Fewer and fewer providers are starting, and those who do tend to move on to different opportunities after a few years.

SWIF recently announced it is receiving a Minnesota Department of Human Services grant to fund programming and child care staff. The grant is worth $150,000 through the next two years.

“[Child care access has] been trending [downward] for years,” Maertens said.

In 2018, the Minnesota Senate passed several bills to loosen regulations for daycares. The bills eased background checks for personnel in an attempt to strike a balance between safety and privacy.

Residents are looking at other options than state grants to supplement the lack of child care services. Litchfield Superintendent Beckie Simenson said she is currently a part of a group of concerned individuals and organizations about Litchfield’s child care provider shortage.

“Judy [Hulterstrum, family services and Community Education are involved,” Simenson said. “We may need to ask businesses to have child care services.”

Hennepin and Ramsey counties rank 84 and 87 out of 87 in the university report’s overall access index and have some of the most expensive child care in the state.