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With the intention of keeping child care centers and family providers in business, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation has awarded $60,722 to 14 child care facilities in Minnesota to help them fund for expanding programs. Locally, Jill Baer of Montgomery was awarded $500 after expanding her license for more infant and toddler slots. (Metro Creative Images)

Childcare can be hard to find, but thanks to $60,722 in funding from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, 14 childcare centers and family providers have room for more slots.

SMIF received the one-time allocation from the Minnesota Department of Human Services at the end of its fiscal year June 30, and awarded varying degrees of funding to family providers and childcare facilities “shovel ready” or already open and planning on expansion. The funding results in a 548-slot increase for children in need of care in SMIF’s 20-county region in southern Minnesota.

It hasn’t been determined if SMIF will be able to award grants of that size in the future, but Rae Jean Hansen, vice president of Early Childhood at SMIF hopes it’s a possibility. As another option, she recommends providers check out Child Care Aware for grant opportunities that end Sept. 25.

“There’s such a need for infant care, so it’s great when a provider can increase their capacity to do that particular care,” said Hansen.

Jill Baer, provider for Little Explorers Child Care in Montgomery, is one local recipient of SMIF funding. After changing her license from a Class A to a Class C, she can now take up to 10 children under school-age instead of six. Expanding her license made her eligible for the SMIF grant, and she was awarded $500.

With the grant, Baer purchased necessities needed for the additional infants. That includes a larger refrigerator to support breastfeeding mothers and to hold more food. Baer also acquired tools to install a fence outside for the growing group of children.

Baer has one temporary opening for an infant slot and two open slots for preschool-age children (2 and up) at Little Explorers Child Care, but since Baer’s calendar runs with the school year, she primarily cares for teachers’ children. Non-teaching families find other caregivers to watch their children in the summertime, when Baer closes for the season. She accepts children from three different school districts and four different towns, including the rural area near Montgomery and Le Center.

In her three years as a childcare provider, Baer has observed the biggest need is more slots for infants and toddlers. One major reason for this shortage, she said, is because many schools now provide before and after school care, but only for school-aged children.

“I feel bad for the parents who are searching for those young ages, and finding a good provider is so hard,” said Baer. “I think it’s going to continue to get harder as there’s more preschool opportunities. And there will be more in-home care closing with limited income.”

SMIF is working on an updated analysis of childcare slot shortages in Minnesota, but as of a year ago, the most recent study indicated an 8,616 slot shortage. Hansen said she wouldn’t be surprised if the next analysis indicates a significant change in the past year alone as far as a further decrease in childcare slots. A number of factors play into her theory, including a changing economy and parents leaving the childcare field as their own children grow up.

Baer added that she also sees parents open day care centers for a few years because they can’t find care for their own infants and toddlers, but after those children grow older, the providers go to work elsewhere.

Looking at each county and community to study their demographics, Hansen said her department works to reduce whatever barriers stand in the way of existing providers. That could mean giving them localized training, providing grant dollars, supplying Early Childhood books and curriculum, or working with providers to improve their overall business skills and operations.

“We know in small towns, centers can’t operate, so the family providers are important for the economy,” said Hansen. “We want to make sure they can stay in business.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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