Daycare need touches entire state

There are 132 large daycare center operations in the state, to which Stark County supplies zero. A daycare center is defined as a program offering care to 19 or more children. The number of children allowed depends on the caregiver-to-child ratio...

There are 132 large daycare center operations in the state, to which Stark County supplies zero.

A daycare center is defined as a program offering care to 19 or more children. The number of children allowed depends on the caregiver-to-child ratio and the square footage of the center.

It's no surprise that with zero centers in operation, Stark County is below the state average in meeting child care needs. However, one Dickinson resident is in the process of opening a center in town.

Statewide, the supply of child care options meets the demand by 35 percent. In Stark County, that number drops to 30 percent.

Despite the low numbers, Linda Reinicke, regional director for the North Dakota Child Care Resource and Referral, said for the most part the state is on par with the national level.


"If we have data in our state, and it exists on a national level, we're very much in line with that data," Reinicke said.

However, one area where North Dakota as a whole, and Stark County in particular, lead the nation is in terms of the number of working mothers.

Nationally, the number of mothers in the workforce with children under 5 is 62 percent, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. In North Dakota, mothers who work and have children 6 years and younger is 76.1 percent. The number jumps to 84.6 percent in Stark County.

"I think there's still this idealistic picture of North Dakota being more old-fashioned than that, and it's not our reality," said Kristi Asendorf, CCR&R northwest regional director. "As such, it would be nice for families to have more choices, that's not our reality right now."

There is no doubt, however, on a national and state level the biggest gap in child care needs is in infant care. Statewide, it's also difficult for parents who work in shifts or late at night to find care.

Reinicke said the biggest contributing factor is the smaller caregiver-to-child ratios. One caregiver can watch over four babies or seven toddlers.

"It isn't that people don't really love babies but they can't take any more (into their program)," said Verla Jung, CCR&R specialist in Stutsman County.

Reinicke and Jung agree because of the smaller ratio, daycare operators are able to turn an even smaller profit so fewer people even offer it.


Asendorf said caregivers need to realize if they take infants now they could potentially continue to care for the same child for a longer period of time or by taking one infant, they could also care for all ofthe baby's siblings.

Building infrastructure

"Personally, I cannot see how any community could not understand child care is part of the infrastructure," Asendorf said.

Because it does tend to slip people's minds, however, Asendorf said caregivers in her region have discussed the idea of staging a day where all providers close for one day to show how many parents use daycare.

She said providers also considered a slightly less dramatic approach, like offering purple ribbons for parents to wear one day to show they have children in daycare.

In Stutsman County, Jung said she involved Jamestown's city and business leaders when the community faced the threat of one of its large centers closing.

"I went to the chamber of commerce; I went to the economic development office, and they funded some meetings," Jung said. "Then, we invited businesses to come to...(a luncheon) and we talked about the need and supply and demand."

Jung said the city and business leaders continued to meet for six to eight months until they had resolved the issue by helping a center in operation relocate and expand its facility.


Stutsman County currently has five daycare centers.

"Three of them we've had for a really long time, and a couple more are either Head Start programs, or an expansion of the (YMCA) program, which has a center," Jung said.

Daycare attraction

All the CCR&Rs said they'll use advertising or have meetings if there is a crisis in any given community.

"We do classified ads, posters, several different things, but honestly ... we haven't come up with any or many new providers because of it," Asendorf said.

Asendorf said she has worked with smaller communities once their needs become critical.

She said the region has gone as far as putting notes in new-mom gift bags offering not only options for care but suggesting a stay-at-home mom could become a provider.

Like the rest of the nation, North Dakota also experiences high turnover rates in daycare programs.


One of the reasons is the high up front costs and the relatively small gains.

Asendorf said it's hard to attract people when the pay is about minimum wage with no benefits.

Plus, she said raising the costs is hard on parents.

"Parents really can't afford to pay more for child care, but they can't charge less," Asendorf said. "In order to keep it a viable business, they should probably charge more, especially when space is a premium."

The statewide costs for child care average about $4,801.78 per year for family or group daycare, which is about 11 percent of the median family income.

In Stark County, where there's a slightly higher demand, the average is $4,934.28, or 11.5 percent of a family's median income.

Larger centers tend to have higher operating costs so charge a little bit more.

On average, families pay about $10 extra a week to have a child in a center versus at a family or group daycare.


CCR&R offer referrals to parents who call in to request care and send out surveys afterward. While a relatively small number return the surveys, the ones who do most often report finding an option or at least finding the information from the CCR&R to be helpful.

"It seems like they seldom call back," Jung said.

The CCR&Rs have no way to find out how the parents of the remaining children who potentially need care are meeting their needs.

"Even in those situations where parents choosing relatives or neighbors, we want them to understand what quality care can look like," Asendorf said.

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