GRAND FORKS — A child care town hall meeting Monday night at the Spud Jr. in East Grand Forks sparked new ideas and conversations about what would help those in need of child care and care providers in the community.
East Grand Forks Economic Director Paul Gorte and First Children’s Finance Business Development Manager for Minnesota Jessica Beyer hosted the three-hour event, at which parents and child care providers were able to share their thoughts on East Grand Forks’ perceived issues with the industry.
Beyer explained First Children’s Finance is a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis. It works directly with child care businesses by tailoring all of its information, tools and resources toward their needs.
“A lot of people go into the business because they love children,” Beyer said. “They don’t necessarily go into the business knowing and understanding how to run and operate a business, so we do just that.”
Prior to the meeting, 14 businesses and more than 300 parents filled out a survey to detail their individual needs, as well as the shortcomings they faced while trying to obtain or provide child care services. The event began with Beyer going over the survey’s findings before she conducted a group exercise to identify solutions.
“Having another child was never an option because of the lack of infant child care,” a local parent said via the survey.
“There are so few options for infant care that we did not get to make a decision on the type of child care we wanted for our children,” another parent said in the survey. “We essentially were forced to take the first open infant care spot we could find.”
Of those surveyed, 53% of parents said child care availability impacted their family planning. As for reasons for not enrolling in paid child care, 49% marked themselves as “other,” which Beyer said was mostly parents looking for summer school programs; 18% said their spouse or partner adjusted their work schedules to accommodate their child care needs; 16% said they have chosen to become a stay-at-home parent; 12% said they cannot afford child care; and 6% said they are unable to find the correct kind of child care.
On the business side, 22% of family providers said they planned on staying in the business for fewer than three more years; another 22% said they planned on staying for three to five years; 22% said they planned on staying from six to nine years; and 36% plan to stay in business for more than 10 years.
“Staff have been unable to return from maternity leave, (and) staff have had attendance issues due to lack of child care or backup child care options,” a local employer said in the survey.
Of the same businesses surveyed, 57% said they are willing to create a flexible schedule for employees facing child care challenges; 36% are willing to provide flexible spending accounts; 14% are willing to provide money to employees for child care expenses; and 7% are willing to provide space for a child care business.
Beyer said one of the problems linking child care providers with their customers is how expensive care can be despite profit margins not being wide for providers. Infant care as a whole usually loses money.
“We want to be able to have that understanding, knowledge and community buy-in,” Beyer said. “That’s what we do on a community level. Because we’re a national nonprofit, we do work at a system level, so when we do programs like this, we work on a local systems level.”
Once the survey results were explained, attendees were given 15 minutes to brainstorm ideas, write them on sheets of paper and put them on two boards in the room. The ideas were divided into ideas revolving around recognition, facilities, financial support and incentives, training, workforce development, community education and partnerships and “other.” Once the 15 minutes were up, Beyer read the ideas aloud and divided the room by labeling each table with one of the idea categories and asking attendees to sit at the table best representing their ideas. From there, each table presented their favorite three ideas to move forward with at the next meeting.
Ideas ranged from starting private foundation grants for centers to cover the cost of CDAs for employees, a child care facility at various locations, including Sunday school classrooms in churches that are unused during the week and funding to help providers hire additional staff.
The next town hall will once again be free and is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, May 5, in the East Grand Forks City Hall training room.
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