Reflecting on Child Care Access in Greater Minnesota

Nate Bean

During the summer of 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity to be the Humphrey School intern at the Center for Small Towns, researching child care access in Greater Minnesota. I couldn’t have spent my time working on a more important policy issue for Greater Minnesota. Through my research I developed case studies of economically feasible, innovative child care models for small communities through speaking with providers and visiting facilities across the state. I visited different care arrangements from Invest Early, the largest rural early care program in the state, to smaller child care providers in places like Red Lake and Franklin. My work culminated in a final report featuring seven case studies that explore the path forward for families and child care providers in Greater Minnesota.
The report features an intentionally diverse group of providers. Some are classified as family child care, while others are child care centers. Case studies focus on locations that are about to open, locations that have been open for multiple years, and one that has already closed. Even with the diversity of cases, a few key themes run through the report. One was the potential for nontraditional child care models to be more economically feasible than traditional child care arrangements. Two nontraditional options highlighted in the report are employer-supported care and cooperative family care. In the latter, multiple family providers are housed under one roof. Both have the potential to offset some costs faced by providers and bring in funding from the larger community.
Another key takeaway was the importance of people beginning to consider child care to be a community responsibility, rather than strictly the duty of parents. Once communities take that responsibility there are a wide array of institutions and organizations that can play a key role in supporting local childcare: businesses, local government, community groups, and many more. Outside financial support is key to the sustainability of providers in the dysfunctional child care market. Finally, after assessing the case studies, I concluded that while these community solutions made a real difference they didn’t go far enough. Every community I visited still lacked enough affordable child care. I think that points to the importance of a large-scale change in the child care market that ensures the more equitable distribution of an essential service for young children and Minnesota families.
Travelling around the state to speak with people was a highlight of the project. I visited countless small towns I hadn’t been to and truly felt closer to Minnesota than when I began the project. I also had the chance to meet with, and learn from, many people dedicated to increasing quality child care access in Minnesota. I benefitted a great deal from their expertise, and my project wouldn’t have been possible without them, or the assistance from the staff and student workers and CST. While access to child care remains a huge problem for Minnesota families, I feel strongly that the dedication and innovation of the providers featured in the report should be a cause for optimism.
As a graduate student thinking about my upcoming career, my time at CST was extremely valuable. It gave me a chance to put some of the research techniques I’ve been learning into practice, make connections, and engage in important work in Greater Minnesota that can often be overshadowed by a focus on the metro area. Having graduated from UMM and worked at the CST on a couple of project before being a graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, I appreciated the chance to return to an organization that helped shape my career goals as an undergrad. I’m thankful that the experience was made possible by funding from CST, the Humphrey School, and West-Central Initiative.

Click the link below to read Nathan’s Report!

“Responding to the Child Care Shortage: Case Studies of Innovation in Greater Minnesota”

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