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Child care town hall a success–what’s next?
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Child care town hall a success–what’s next?

The online community townhall titled Child Care Solutions for Cook County on Monday, March 14, was very well-attended and even earned a brief mention on a Duluth television station. As the community waits to hear what’s next, WTIP thought it would be a good time to consider what led up to the town hall event—and what sort of ideas were offered during the brainstorming session.

Nearly 60 people were logged in for the meeting hosted by the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition. The town hall started with introductions and a welcome by Jodi Tervo Roberts, of Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.

She noted that the lack of childhood is not a new topic. She shared some information on the work done by the child care coalition and others and about the partnership that has been formed with First Children’s Finance through the Rural Child Care Innovation Program.

The First Children’s Finance website explains that the goal of its Rural Child Care Innovation Program is to address the challenges of rural child care through the lens of economic development. The organization works with a core team of community members to identify “right-sized solutions.” Members of the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition are the core team and they hosted the town meeting along with First Children’s Finance.

Tervo Roberts said the purpose of the town hall was not to look at the problem but to look for solutions. She introduced Teri Steckelberg, business development manager at First Children’s Finance, who shared information on surveys that had gone out to employers, parents, and child care providers.

During her presentation, Steckelberg touched on the economic impact of the community’s child care shortage. She also shared information on the challenges for child care providers. She noted that child care centers have a hard time finding workers, in part because of low wages, long hours, and generally no benefits. She said there may be home child care providers who want to expand but have a lack of space. She said it is expensive to start a daycare. Regulations are necessary, said Steckelberg, but they are difficult to maneuver for someone just starting a daycare. She also cited “high burnout” and a shortage of interest in becoming a child care provider.

Steckelberg shared a heartfelt comment from one parent who responded by saying that child care is a really difficult profession and said we should love and support our child care providers.

After hearing what Steckelberg said was the “doom and gloom,” attendees broke into four groups for some brainstorming. The breakout room discussions focused on workforce development, community education and partnerships, financial support/incentives, and facilities.

Small Business Development Center Consultant Pat Campanaro was the spokesperson for the group considering the child care workforce situation. Campanaro said that group feels those who are considering becoming daycare providers need more support and providers need more recognition.

Campanaro added that the group feels that involving younger people in child care is important, as well as recognizing the work of current daycare providers.

Krista Olson, of Cook County Schools Early Childhood and Family Education, was the facilitator for the group that considered the topic of Community Education & Partnership. Olson said one of the ideas of the group was to find a way have larger employers provide space for daycare

Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority Director Beth Drost gave the report from the break-out room on financial support/incentives. Drost said the group included a parent who has been using their vacation time to volunteer at the Cooperation Station. The breakout group discussed grant funding for existing child care providers and incentives for those considering entering the field. Drost also noted that the group thought the community should perhaps rethink the entire child care model. Drost said the for-profit business model does not work for child care.

Emily Marshall, director of the Cook County YMCA, led the discussion in the break-out room on facilities. There was a discussion of shared space and some sort of daycare incubator. One group member, Gary Latz, suggested that the recently formed Cook County Real Estate Fund could possibly give some assistance in building or expanding daycare facilities.

At the end of the breakout sessions, Steckelberg talked about the next steps. She said First Children’s Finance will compile all of the work of the Core Team, the survey information, and the community town hall feedback. That will be shared with the Early Childhood Coalition. She said once the plan is developed, the community may apply for funding from First Children’s Finance for the implementation of some of the strategies.

First Children’s Finance has committed to working with the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition for about two years. Steckelberg said her organization would continue to work with child care providers after that on the financing of new daycares or expansions.

In the meantime, the Cook County Early Childhood Coalition would like to hear from parents and community members with their concerns or ideas. The Core Team members are Business Consultant Pat Campanaro; Beth Drost of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority; Rachel Liechty of Cook County Schools; Emily Marshall, Cook County YMCA; April McCormick, Grand Portage Tribal Council; Krista Olson, Cook County Schools Early Childhood and Family Education; Kelsey Kennedy, Cook County Higher Education, Ellen Seitz, Cooperation Station; Jodi Tervo Roberts, Cook County Public Health; Heidi Akins, Cook County Licensor; and community members Jared Swader and Bill Hanson.

To see the First Children’s Finance presentation and the brainstorming ideas brought forward at the town hall, the video is available online here:  Child Care Solutions for Cook County.

To learn more, contact Nancie Deming, the core team leader at ndeming@sawtoothmountainclinic.org or contact her at the clinic at (218)595-0660.