The United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) conducted a needs assessment in 2013 through Wilder Research to determine the needs and issues regarding child care in the region from parent, provider and employer perspectives. The assessment focused specifically on how families find and use child care, identified child care challenges and needs and explored early education options offered by our providers. Finally, the report demonstrated how UWNEMN could address the emerging issues surrounding local child care on the Iron Range.
The results showed that finding child care arrangement that has all the features that are important is either "very hard" or "somewhat hard" for the majority of families surveyed. Families indicated that the lack of flexible scheduling and lack of quality child care as their top difficulties. An alarming 50% of surveyed families stated the lack of child care affects their decision to continue living in Upper St.Louis or Itasca County.
Barriers to finding child care included waiting lists as long as one year, sometimes longer, especially for infant care, flexible scheduling to accommodate shift work as the hours worked by mining employees and other industries on the Iron Range, such as healthcare are nontraditional, and not enough formal early education options.
Child care providers expressed concerns in meeting parents' needs due to space limitations within their facilities or homes. Also, offering early childhood education has barriers for providers, as trainings to become "accredited" or "rated" are expensive and time intensive with most trainings held outside of the Iron Range area. In addition, finding additional dollars for updated equipment, learning toys, curriculum and educational materials is also a burden.
Four years later, the most recent reports from the Center for Rural Policy and Development (2017) show that Northeastern MN still has an unsettling shortage of 5,000 child care spaces. While center based care has become the primary source of child care in the metro areas, the Iron Range has not seen the same shift. Instead, in-home providers are retiring, with few (if any) starting up new child care businesses. A task force comprised of staff from UWNEMN, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board, Northland Foundation, Blandin Foundation and the UMD Center for Economic Development are working together to create added momentum on the development of child care in the region through a variety of ways which include tracking and supporting potential expansion projects, creating a Business Case Study for Child Care, and creating solutions for workforce issues surrounding child care and legislative work.
Based on the study results, UWNEMN has committed to support the following:
Our main priority is increasing the availability of child care on the Iron Range. We are currently piloting a child care expansion through an RFP process that allows new and currently operating licensed child care providers to apply for funding to expand their child care capacity. UWNEMN committed $50,000 to this project and through the support of three additonal $50,000 matches from the Northland Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, and St. Louis County there is a total of $200,000 to invest. To date, 6 area child care providers have been awarded over $70,000 in funding allowing for 63 additional child care spots to open up.
UWNEMN is currently named as a partner in the Northland Foundation's proposal to the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development which names 3 additional Iron Range child care expansion projects. If the grant is awarded, $41,000 has been committed in matching funds to support the named providers. To view the child care expansion grant requirements and fill out an application please click here.
Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation has provided $20,000 in funding for technical assistance support. UWNEMN manages the grant funds which are available for new or expanding and private or nonprofit childcare center providers. Grant awards range from $500-$2,500 and require a minimum 1:1 match. For more information on what type of assistance is covered or to apply please click here.
One of the main focus areas of UWNEMN is Helping Children Succeed. We believe that every child deserves the opportunity for a strong start. Ninety percent of brain development happens by age five making the early years a critical time to have children in stimulating learning environments. Quality rated providers can offer structure, thoughtful curriculum and opportunities that prepare children for school. Children in Parent Aware rated programs have shown significant gains in kindergarten readiness measures such as expressive and receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness, print knowledge and social competence. This is one of the reasons UWNEMN is dedicated to helping our providers improve their early education quality. We also believe that all of our providers should be supported and rewarded for bringing out the potential in children they serve. As of January 2015, UWNEMN committed to offering financial awards to child care providers that achieve a rating through Parent Aware rating process. To date, 19 Iron Range child care providers have either signed on to become rated or achieved a rating with more on the way.
Award breakouts are:
- 1 Star = $250
- 2 Star = $500
- 3 Star = $750
- 4 Star = $1,000
The award levels can build upon each other, so if a provider chooses to obtain a 4 star rating all at once they would be eligible for a $2,500 scholarship award.