One of the major challenges facing parents searching for child care is knowing where to look. Fortunately, local residents can turn to a program called Child Care Aware, which is administered by the Prairie Five Action Council.

One of the major challenges facing parents searching for child care is knowing where to look. Fortunately, local residents can turn to a program called Child Care Aware, which is administered by the Prairie Five Action Council.

Child Care Aware provides families, child care programs, and the community with information and support for quality child care.

For  families, Child Care Aware offers scholarships to help pay for child care, referrals to find child care, and updated information on licensed programs.

For child care programs, Child Care Aware offers professional development support with trainings, mentoring, and coaching. They also provide an opportunity for financial support through grants and loans. In addition, they support child care programs through the licensing process.

For the community, Child Care Aware works to educate community members on child care issues and needs, as well as work with businesses to create child care solutions.

Marge Knudson, director of Child Care Aware of Minnesota, West Central Prairie Five CAC, described what families are facing in our area. “There is a huge need for more child care providers in our area. Families are finding it difficult to find child care, especially in the infant and toddler age groups. The access to child care is limited, and many families are put on waiting lists for several months before the child care program has an opening,” she said.

Along with the difficulty in finding child care, families also face other issues caused by changes that are oftentimes out of their control. A provider may quit. A parent’s job and hours may change. Sometimes a family and provider simply are not a good fit. All these could lead to a lack of continuity in child care for families, which can negatively affect their ability to do their jobs.

“Unfortunately when changes occur,  there is no certainty that the families needs can be sustained,” said Knudson. “We are doing our best to build capacity in our local area to hopefully help with the shortage, but until that is resolved, there is no certainty for families.”

Knudson spoke about child care providers willing to work with families  to accommodate families their own unique needs for child care. “From my experience,” she said, “child care providers are flexible to a certain point. They understand that shifts change, and as long as they have a schedule, they will accommodate the best they can.”

Knudson made it very clear that there are options available to help cover the costs of child care. “There are a couple of programs that will help families pay for child care. The Child Care Assistance program is an income-based program offered through the county to help families pay for child care. Child Care Aware also offers Early Learning Scholarships. These child care programs have to be used at a Parent Aware rated program,” she said.

Knudson did mention that there are some requirements that need to be met in order to qualify for assistance. “Child care assistance is based on a sliding fee and depends on the families’ income. the Early Learning Scholar­ships is a set amount based on the Parent Aware rating that the child care program receives. However, to qualify for the scholarships, the family needs to meet an income guideline or meet other qualifiers.”

Knudson provided some statistics for what child care costs in Montevideo and in Chippewa County. The rates for infants tend to be higher than school age students, and the average hourly rates in Montevideo are slightly less expensive than average rates for the county.

The average hourly rates in Montevideo range from $2.49 for infants to $2.61 for school age children. For Chippewa County, the average hourly rates range from $2.73 for infants to $2.72 for school age children.

The average daily rate in Montevideo ranges from $27.75 for infants to $24.67 for school age children. The average daily rates in Chippewa County range from $27.75 for infants to $24.67 for school age children.

The average weekly rates in Montevideo range from $122.14 for infants to $97.86 for school age children. The average weekly rates in Chippewa County range from $114.50 for infants to $96 for school age children.

Just as families face difficulties, child care providers also have issues they face, especially when just starting out. “From what I hear, the  cost of get­ting licensed can be a hindrance for some people in becoming a child care provider. However, there are many programs, including Child Care Aware, that will help pay for the start up cost to get licensed,” Knudson said.

Providers can also face difficulties with families. “Communication with families can be difficult,” Knudson said. “I know just about every program I work with has had to deal with parents or guardians complaining about the cost of child care, the hours they are open, getting offended when difficult conversations need to be discussed, undermining their authority, or not seeing them as professionals but more like baby sitters.”

In spite of all the difficulties, Child Care Aware plays a valuable role in connecting families with providers and makes sure that both have access to  the resources  they need.

For more information about Child Care Aware, contact Marge Knudson at 320-269-8727 or online at marge.knudson@prairiefive.org.

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