Human Services Assistant Commissioner Jim Koppel recently visited Cedar Mountain Cougar Childcare Center in Franklin, Minn., to emphasize the importance of quality child care, and highlight businesses and communities coming together to address the need for child care.
“Without consistent, quality child care, children often struggle and are not prepared to enter kindergarten, and parents often are unable to go to school or work as a result,” said Koppel. “We need to help ensure children are well cared for and educated in safe, stable, nurturing learning environments.”
According to Koppel, state government has a critical role to play, including:
• Supporting child care programs with tools, materials and guidance through the Parent Aware quality child care rating system
• Providing financial support to families with low incomes through the Child Care Assistance Program
• Providing state tax credits to families for child care expenses; this year, Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature expanded the credit to cover 55,900 families, providing more than 42,800 Minnesota families an average additional tax saving of $342 a year, worth a total of $35.8 million in the first biennium.
Businesses and communities play a role as well. Franklin Industries, a collaborative group of business leaders, helped build the Cedar Mountain Cougar Childcare Center, which opened in December 2016, to meet a community need. The program currently serves 29 children. The center is currently working with Parent Aware and accepts families on the Child Care Assistance Program.
“The Cedar Mountain Cougar Childcare Center is a great example of people coming together to meet a need for child care,” said Koppel. “It’s a model of how communities can solve a problem and address needs. While state government plays a critical role, families, businesses and communities do as well.
Across the state, the number of providers is declining – there were 12,449 licensed child care providers in 2012 and 10,599 in 2016 – making it difficult for families, particularly in Greater Minnesota, to find care.
Cedar Mountain Cougar Childcare Center is filling that need. The center’s Executive Director Jody Rose, who operated a family child care business for two decades, echoed that, stating challenges in providing quality child care include difficulty in hiring qualified teachers, struggles for families with low incomes to pay for child care expenses, and need for scholarships and other financial supports for families.
“We are thankful for the scholarships and other financial supports for our low income families, however there are many families in rural Minnesota that miss those income guidelines by a few thousand dollars or there is not enough money allocated to help those who qualify,” Rose said. “Those families struggle to pay for quality child care because they cannot afford it and often times end up staying home with their children instead of going to work. It would be nice to see Parent Aware scholarships and other financial supports expanded to help more of these families.”
Currently 16,000 Minnesota families with 30,000 children are enrolled in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, receiving financial support to help pay for child care expenses.
“We all have the same goal in mind: To ensure children are well cared for and have a healthy development,” said Koppel.