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With child care in short supply, groups work to recruit new providers

From 7:30 in the morning to 5 at night, Monday through Friday, Shauna Pengelley's home is taken over by kids. The former EMT professional from Seattle opened Tot's Landing Child Care this spring after it became necessary for her to stay home with...

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Press graphic by Nadya Faulx/Infogr.am. According to data from Child Aware of North Dakota, the extent licensed care meets the potential demand for child care was as low as 6 percent in Dunn County in 2013, and 22 percent in Stark County.

From 7:30 in the morning to 5 at night, Monday through Friday, Shauna Pengelley's home is taken over by kids.

The former EMT professional from Seattle opened Tot's Landing Child Care this spring after it became necessary for her to stay home with her four children, ages 3 to 10. She figured she could take on one additional kid, but when she went to the Stark County licensing office to become a licensed provider, "I realized there's a very serious need for child care," she said.

And so, "that one child became a full-fledged day care."

Today, she and one employee, Stacia Whittlesey, care for five, sometimes six, kids --including three infants -- in addition to Pengelley's four, and says she fully intends to stick with her new career.

"I want to see the kids grow up," Pengelley said. "It's a good fit. Our family has really adjusted to having a full-time daycare in our home."

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She's just one of dozens of private child care professionals in the area. Dickinson, like much of western North Dakota, relies on in-home providers like Pengelley for child care. Stark County counts just one higher-volume commercial center, KinderKidz, and a number of educational child care centers, including Head Start, the temporarily-closed Early Head Start and Grasslands Montessori Academy. Most other programs are run by individuals, often parents themselves, out of their homes.

It's this type of potential new provider that Dickinson State University's Strom Business Center is trying to attract with its recently launched ChildCareND.com , a "one-stop-shop" for individuals interested in opening a private day care.

The resources for becoming licensed are out there, said RayAnn Kilen, interim director of the Strom Center, but "it is so complicated in the way it's presented. That's the first barrier into the entry into being a provider."

Pengelley said she had no troubles becoming licensed -- for that she credits Stark County's licenser, Emily Albert. But for interested providers with no idea of where to begin, the process, from home inspections to fire codes to grants and loans, can be daunting. The online portal pulls together resources from across state and local agencies, presenting them in a "really quick, easy, 1-2-3 this is what you need to do guide," Kilen said.

"It's a grassroots kind of an effort to encourage anybody who's looking at child care as a problem to be part of the solution," she said.

And the community could use all of the providers it can get: the policy group Child Care Aware of North Dakota estimated that in 2013, as many as 78 percent of children under the age of 13 who needed additional care didn't receive it. As new families move to the area and hospitals see record birth rates, early child care is in short supply.

"Honestly, it's almost at a crisis situation in some of our communities," Kilen said. "This isn't a problem, this is a crisis."

A growing need

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ChildCareND.com is the product of a partnership between the Strom Center and Vision West ND, a consortium of the 19 oil-producing counties, which funded the development of the website. Through a number of community meetings throughout western North Dakota, the groups found that childcare was a top concern affecting quality of life in the region.

"We just have this incredible need and we have fewer and fewer people providing services," Kilen said.

As a group provider, Pengelley can care for up to 12 children. She said Tot's Landing has been full since it opened earlier this year, and as a moderator for an online babysitting service exchange, said she gets as many as 15 requests per week from families looking for help.

"The need for daycare is so definite," she said. "If a spot opens up I can fill it pretty quickly. Openings don't stay open."

There are five categories for licensed providers: Family, Group, Center, Preschool Education and School-Age facilities. Each is dictated by certain state and county guidelines and licensing regulations.

Stark County had just 28 family and 24 group programs last year, according to a survey by Child Care Aware, with a total capacity of roughly 600 kids. Spots could become even harder to come by as some group facilities have had to downsize from a previous maximum capacity of 18 kids down to 12 under a 2009 city of Dickinson ordinance.

Gaylon Baker, executive director of the Stark Development Corporation, said a main cause of the shortage is the rapid growth of the area outpacing the number of new start-up child care programs, particularly commercially-licensed centers.

"It's not a high-margin business," he said. "People who do become childcare providers, it is a great deal that comes from a great passion for children. You're not going to get rich off of child care."

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The corporation has compiled an online how-to guide similar to ChildCareND.com, and provides local grants to hopeful providers, who Baker said sometimes struggle to acquire funding to cover anything from food to furniture.

"We're not experts at childcare," he said, "but if somebody is looking at starting a center-sized child care operation, as they go through the business development process, we are here to help."

With the engineering firm KLJ estimating 9,500 new residences needed in Dickinson by 2019, Baker said he can only guess on the number of kids "that are likely to need care as a result," especially with more households run by two working parents.

The Stark Development and Strom Center's efforts to recruit more licensed providers "do make a difference, a positive difference" to improve the shortage of childcare, Baker said, but he said he wonders if they'll be able to keep up with population growth.

"That's a little cloudy," he said.

"Take big bites out of the elephant"

Linda Reinicke, program director of Child Care Aware's western North Dakota office, which helped Pengelley become licensed, said it will take more than family- and group-sized providers to solve the child care shortage.

"Everything's an option, particularly in smaller communities," she said. "But the need is so big in western North Dakota that we need to take big bites out of the elephant."

The area's greatest needs may be for high-volume centers, but Reinicke said there are a number of barriers in the way of opening a facility, from financing to to building to paying staff adequate wages -- all costs that have to be recovered somewhere, often from the parents.

The last legislative session authorized an additional $2.5 million in state funds for the Child Care Assistance Program to subsidize the cost for parents to send their children to daycare; Child Care Aware provides grants to providers and facilities to help offset costs as well.

But there's no immediate solution to the crisis.

"It takes time," Reinicke said. "It's not something that can happen overnight. ... It's very difficult to open a large center in less than 12 months, unless you work at it."

Until more facilities can enter the market, the demand for child care will continue to fall on individual caregivers like Pengelley, who said she would recommend anyone to look into getting licensed.

Kilen said she hopes the ChildCareND.com portal will be an effective recruiting tool for bringing in new providers.

"Bottom line, it's a call-out to say we have a crisis, we need providers, have you considered getting licensed, there are people that can help you."

Corrections: An earlier version of this article mistakenly listed four, not five, types of provider licensing; mis-attributed a city of Dickinson ordinance to the North Dakota Department of Human Services; and included an incorrect fund amount available in the Child Care Assistance Program.

Related Topics: DICKINSONEDUCATION
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