During a Zoom interview on February 25, Kayla Thompson was holding her daughter in her lap while answering the question of why she decided to start her daycare.
“When my son was younger, I had a hard time finding daycare,” Thompson said. “I worked at the nursing home, and I worked really early. And my husband also worked early at the time, so we were having trouble.”
She ended up having to work the night shift and her husband would have to bring their son to her work.
“So I just kind of was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to see if I can start a daycare,” Thompson said, “because we need more that open up early and are available certain hours. So I guess that’s why I did it.”
Five years ago this May, Thompson started her daycare business in Greenbush and daycare availability remains an issue in the community today. Thompson is one of two daycares in Greenbush, along with Tanya Hanson’s daycare.
Thompson and Hanson both discussed the childcare shortage and the reasons they do have a childcare business and encourage others to do the same. Individuals of various area organizations that work to help childcare businesses also discussed the childcare shortage issue.
Hanson decided to open her daycare business after her oldest daughter Kinsley was born.
“I went and worked two shifts, and I said, ‘I can’t leave my baby,’” Hanson said. “So, I decided I needed to find something to do at home. Daycare was about my best option.”
She ran her daycare business for five years before getting back into the workforce. Five years later, she returned to running a daycare, not feeling happy working outside the home. In total, she has worked in the daycare business for about 13 years.
“I missed my (daycare) kids. I missed them,” Hanson said about getting back into the business. “These kids are family. They definitely are. I have had kids that are graduating this year.”
She even has had children who have already graduated from high school.
Both her and Thompson can have up to 12 children maximum. Also, daycares are allowed only a certain amount of infants based on the number of children they have at their daycare.
They both have had to turn people away. This has led to some angry feelings, Hanson said. She mentioned how she had to explain to parents how they as providers don’t have any control over this maximum, pointing to county and state as having that authority.
Thompson said she feels guilty about turning people away— what she earlier referred to as the “worst part” about her job.
“You wish you could help everybody, but we just can’t,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
Lynn Balstad works as a Quality Coach and Program Coordinator for Child Care Aware in Region 1, an organization that helps families find childcare. The region she covers includes Roseau, Kittson, Marshall, and several other Northwest Minnesota counties.
She explained how the childcare shortage is not only a Greenbush issue, but an area-wide one. A former early childhood educator, Balstad remembers when Greenbush had 15 to 20 licensed family childcares when she first started her business in Greenbush close to 30 years ago. Now, the community has two.
Returning home to Greenbush, Alicia Bauman works as a Parent Aware recruiter. Parent Aware falls under Child Care Aware, an organization that helps families find childcare, helps providers grow as professionals, and assists communities in voicing child care issues. She explained how the shortage issue extends beyond just Greenbush.
According to Bauman, Badger had two licensed early childhood educators as of October 2020, but now has none. From October 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021, Roseau County had seven childcare programs close its doors. Of the 21 Minnesota counties Child Care Aware covers in its Northwest district, Roseau County had the highest closure rate of licensed early childhood educators.
In total, Roseau County has 46 active licensed early childhood educators. In terms of the entire Northwest Minnesota District, it saw 39 new programs open and 40 close last year.
“It’s not easy taking care of kids,” Balstad said.
Balstad added that there is help out there through Parent Aware and Child Care Aware, giving providers resources, trainings and networking connections. COVID has limited those opportunities, including in-person trainings.
“They need to see people and it’s hard,” Balstad said. “So that may have played a part in some of the closures we’ve had in the last year.”
Shortage or not, Hanson said her daycare is always full and always has a job in this line of work, but turning people away and seeing the result of doing so is difficult.
“When we can’t please as many as we would like in our community, it’s hard,” Hanson said, “because we have people moving out of our community because there is no daycare.”
Also being the ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) teacher in town, Balstad said they have added families in this last year who have moved back to the area, but have a lacking number of childcare options within a 20-mile radius. She explained the impact of this.
“(In) our area, our parents are taking children elsewhere for child care because you can only have so many (children) with licensing, especially infant-toddler care,” Balstad said. “That’s probably the biggest and there are a lot of infants and toddlers.”
To see the complete story, read the March 3 issue of The Tribune in print or online.