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Becker County Supports Child Care Businesses During COVID

With a population of 34,371, Becker County is located in West Central MN. Like many communities in Minnesota, the area has a shortage of child care. In 2018, Becker County was selected by the First Children’s Finance to participate in the Rural Child Care Innovation Project, a community based process designed to identify and implement solutions to the child care crisis. First Children’s Finance facilitated the process. On November 15, 2018, community engagement activities culminated in a Town Hall meeting in Detroit Lakes, MN. Over 50 participants representing child care, early education, and business, government, and faith communities in Becker County were in attendance. Participants reviewed the background data and identified trends impacting child care and early education in Becker County.

What was the Challenge?

Becker County was experiencing a multitude of issues concerning child care. An acute shortage of providers and infant and toddler slots were at the epicenter of this problem. During the time of application to the program Becker County Energize reported that 9 programs had closed in 2018. Many community leaders were aware of the need for additional child care slots, but they were looking for resources to understand the full scope of the needs and potential resources that were available to them.

How did FCF Help?

Through the work with First Children’s Finance, a gap analysis was conducted that showed a need of 667 child care slots for children under the age of 5. Facilitated by FCF, the local Core Team and project teams worked to increase awareness of child care needs throughout the community and establish a community action plan. FCF staff hosted business training cohorts and provided one-on-one technical assistance to providers who requested assistance. Today, FCF continues to provide ongoing technical assistance to local leaders and individual providers.

What was the outcome?

Survey and analysis of the need were conducted and the community was informed of the issue of child care. Multiple connections were made between community resources and potential projects.   To support providers, a full day of training was held in the summer of 2019; a training was hosted for child care association members in the winter of 2020. The West Central Initiative Foundation offered to pay for Child Development Associate Certificates (MNCDA) for any provider, to enhance education, qualification, and pay. There was one MNCDA cohort of 10 individuals who obtained this certificate in December of 2019 (about 8 were from Becker County or White Earth).  There are an additional 6 people who are starting the CDA program.

When COVID-19 changed the scope of child care and the needs of providers overnight, Becker County came together and provided supplies to providers. A child care provider group was established on Facebook to be able to interact and identify needs. There were 32 people that joined the group and participated in providing information.  Immediate child care business needs included PPE, cleaning supplies, and limited food items.  A partnership with the local health system supported a community donation drive and allocated funding to support the purchase of cleaning supplies.   In two days over 15 volunteers brought more than two boxes of supplies to 28 child care providers.  Boxes included 2 gallons of milk, 2 loaves of bread, 2 dozen eggs, 1 gallon of bleach, a spray bottle, 2 rolls of paper towels, 1 bottle of hand sanitizer, directions on how to make homemade Clorox wipes (with supplies provided), gloves, Lysol spray, and random amounts of diapers, formula and other items.  A second drop of bleach and hand sanitizer was delivered to 7 different providers a month later.

The Rural Child Care Innovation Program changes how communities view child care businesses. When Becker County viewed as child care businesses as essential community infrastructure, they found ways to increase the supply of child care and respond to immediate needs during a crisis.