The Present and Future of Rural Childcare: Part II

As part of an ongoing series on rural child care, Rebecca Haider looked into a series of concerns raised at a recent Morris town hall event, namely surrounding licensing, training, paperwork, regulations, and how each of these impact the care that child care providers offer.

A little over a month ago, Rep. Jeff Backer organized a listening session with the Greater Minnesota Economic Workforce Development Policy Committee in Morris to better understand challenges in rural child care according to the “boots on the ground.” It was unanimously acknowledged that there is a “major shortage” of child care in rural areas like Morris. When asked what’s preventing more people from offering child care, providers cited the amount of licensing and training required and stringent infant regulations, specifically related to sleep, as key reasons.  

ChildCareConvo_Legislators
Jeff Backer, Tim Wells, Ron Kresha, Paul Anderson,  and Mary Franson were among the representatives who attended the town hall meeting.

This conversation and the publicity it generated in the following weeks got me thinking about the regulations, paperwork , and training that the providers had mentioned. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the behind-the-scene steps for providers before the town hall meeting, so I didn’t really understand how they impacted the overall quality and quantity of care options. So, I decided to dig.

I read all (yes, all) of the statutes concerning human services and child care licensing from the Revisor of Statutes, Stevens County child care licensing, and the Department of Human Services, as well as health reports, and state and local newspaper articles.  What did I learn? Broadly, that each rule, regulation, or statute has been implemented for an array of reasons, like promoting healthy development of children, ensuring healthy food options, or decreasing child mortality (more to come on the reasons behind specific rules in my next post). As one 2013 Star Tribune editorial stated, “these rules, while they may seem burdensome to some, are there for a reason” – making our children safe when in the care of a family provider or child care center.

When it comes to licensing a new provider or center, I learned that state regulations require a series of forms, trainings, and inspections to ensure that the provider and facility are safe for children; the Stevens county licensing site estimates that after a new family provider has submitted their background check, the process “may take 3-6 months to complete.”  As of 2014, each family provider and “primary care giver” — those “who provide services in the licensed setting for more than 30 days in any 12-month period” — must also complete 16 hours of ongoing training in a year.

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More than 40 providers, parents, and community members gathered for the meeting.

Compared to other industries, this amount of training and licensing seems to fall in line. Teachers complete student teaching before they can receive their license to care for students, and nurses must continually take continuing education to renew their license to care for patients.  In an effort to support current and potential providers in rural areas, we need to consider the awareness and accessibility of trainings. Several providers at the town hall meeting mentioned that in-person trainings are more difficult in remote rural areas, especially when considering the limited hours that providers can attend. Offering remote-access and online trainings can help alleviate some of the strain and ease the process, something that Stevens County is making an effort to do by providing a list of requirements and online resources on their daycare licensing website.

Despite the steps being taken to improve licensing, one of the legislators from the town hall meeting stated that “it takes 3-6 months for a ‘motivated’ person to get their license. Because [some of the steps] can be very slow, it may take up to a year.”  I suppose that licensing could take up to a year for some, but others at the town hall meeting also said that certification could take as little as 1-2 months. As the county licensor stated, the speed at which a provider is licensed depends as much on their schedule and motivation as it does on the county and state.

Aside from trainings and licensing, providers stated that the administrative burdens have also increased in recent years. One example brought up at the town hall meeting was that of paperwork associated with infant sleep regulations (a topic that my next post will explore in greater detail). As one of the providers present that night later stated, these potentially-time-consuming documents are intended to protect the providers: “if something were to happen, it saves your butt.” This provider felt that the paperwork associated with the job was justified, especially considering the implications for the children’s safety.

“The first year takes a lot of paperwork but after that it’s not bad. [Providing child care] is such a need in our area, and I hate how people are getting discouraged by the paperwork. What job doesn’t have it? They are doing everything to keep the kids safe. And if it is a little paperwork so be it!”

Other providers present at the town hall disagreed, saying “it’s just ridiculous paperwork we have to fill out.” Those in this cohort agreed with longstanding concerns that the regulations unfairly burden the providers “who have gone above and beyond,” as one Apple Valley provider puts it in a 2012 article. This article also explained how some providers blame a “faulty regulatory system,” arguing that governmental budget cuts have led to fewer inspectors and inspections in some counties.  Commissioner Lucinda Jesson of the Department of Human Services stated that the “first thing we need to do is have providers follow the rules we already have. There are a number of situations where that’s not happening.”

Despite the controversies, I applaud the child care providers who take the trainings, file the paperwork, and do all they can to provide the best for the kids they watch. I encourage more folks to consider offering care, especially in Stevens county and other rural areas where there is a high need.  After responding to a series of concerns about regulations and paperwork, one Morris provider said that it was all worth it to her: “if someone asked me if they should do daycare, I would say yes in a heartbeat.”

I’d love to hear your perspectives on child care provider training and licensing; leave a reply below, email us at cstpub@morris.umn.edu or tweet us @CforSmallTowns.

Many thanks, Rebecca (and Baby) Haider

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