Town Hall Tackles Austin-Area Child Care Crisis

November 06, 2017 10:56 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- More than 100 people filled the Hormel Historic Home Monday night to discuss the results of a new survey that shows the Austin area lacks more than 800 spots in child care for young kids.

The survey was conducted by First Children's Finance, an organization focusing on the business-related aspects of child care, after a group of community leaders applied for and won a grant to study the problems with childcare in Austin.


"We've surveyed parents and providers and a number of people in the community. We've had focus groups and had one-on-one conversations with a variety of people to bring that information to tonight so we can start with facts and move on to solutions," Sheri Dankert, the assistant secretary/treasurer for the Hormel Foundation and a member of the core committee working on the project, said.

At Monday's meeting, attendees also brainstormed potential solutions for some of the issues the survey identified, like a decline in in-home daycare facilities, a lack of cultural-specific care options and higher need due to population increases and more families having both parents working.

"The number of providers that we have around the area and frankly in rural Minnesota as a whole, is on the decline, so there's less and less providers but there's not less children," Dankert said.

Austin's situation isn't unique; data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services shows a similar picture across much of the state. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of in-home family child care programs dropped nearly 30 percent, while the state saw a seven percent increase in larger child care centers during that same period.

While that might sound like good news, nearly three-quarters of new child care centers in the state have opened in the Twin Cities metro area. The metro has seen a two percent increase in child care, while the rest of the state has seen at least an 11 percent decrease in capacity since in-home child care facilities are more common in rural areas. Overall, the state has seen an 18 percent decrease in providers and five percent decrease in capacity.

The committee hopes to create more options for families of all backgrounds and increase support for providers.

"We've constantly got new people coming into the area, which is great. We need to be able to adapt and provide what they're looking for," Diane Baker, the executive director of United Way of Mower County and a member of the committee, said.

The committee hopes to have a full report completed by September 2018 and be able to implement some of its solutions in the next 12 to 18 months.


Logan Reigstad

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