East Grand Forks mother, local leaders talk about child care needs
The Grand Forks Herald sat down with Paul Gorte, economic development director for East Grand Forks, and Brianna Feil, a mother and Water & Light accountant for East Grand Forks, to talk about its work to help bridge the gap between East Grand Forks families in need of child care and child care providers.
EAST GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks Herald sat down with Paul Gorte, economic development director for East Grand Forks, and Brianna Feil, a mother and Water & Light accountant for East Grand Forks, to talk about its work with the Rural Child Care Innovation Program to help bridge the gap between East Grand Forks families in need of child care and child care providers.
Q: What is the purpose of the child care town hall project in East Grand Forks?
A: Paul Gorte: We know that there's a need for additional child care that's affordable and available to people in this area, and because of the funding source, we have to look at it from the East Grand Forks side, the Minnesota side, but it's region wide. It's not just us. It's us in Grand Forks. And we wanted to address it. One of the things we talked about all the time is how tight the unemployment market is, how it's hard to find somebody. There's an estimate of 210 spaces, 210 slots that are needed. If you assume two children per family for 210 slots, that's 105 people that can be put back into the workforce or added to the workforce, so it's a way to do that. There's a lot of things that are going on locally to try to increase the size of the workforce. The Way Cooler campaign, for example, is one way to attract people from elsewhere. There's this, there's the Career Connections, there's Northern Valley Career Expo. Northern Valley careers is looking at high school students to try to let them know about job opportunities in this area. Career Connections is aimed at college students doing the same thing so they can stay here instead of leaving when they get them with college. So, (it’s) all in a way to try to increase the number of people that we have available for the jobs that we have in this area. Their businesses need to have a lot of employees because they're busy, and there's a lot of opportunity, but a lot of people don't know it. These are all ways to try to increase the workforce and help the business community and help the families at the same time.
Q: Why is it important for East Grand Forks parents and child care representatives to participate?
A: Gorte: Have a say in the outcome, because if you do it… I won't say that my mind and I know that Brianna's mind will cover all the options, but I know that my mind won't cover everything. So the more ideas we can get from the broader base of people, the better opportunity we have to do something will really make a difference.
Q: What are some of the biggest childcare issues facing parents?
A: Brianna Feil: I have a three- and a now a one-year-old. But, my son was born last April, and then when I came back to work in June or so, and I had him in our center (in) July, August (and) September. Well, then by the time college classes started back up, a lot of their staff either were back in school, or some got military orders to transfer, or maybe they had graduated from college and then they maybe had left the area or whatever the case may have been going into their field of study, but then they didn't have enough staff. And because the ratio of infants per childcare worker was one to four, our center, along with many other centers that were struggling with that, closed their infant room, which is the highest need in our area and the absolute most difficult to find, and then I had a spot, and then I was 17 weeks with no infant child care. I was thankful that my boss and my employer and everybody (were) willing to work with me, but not everybody has that option. And so if it would have come down to it, does that mean one parent leaves the workforce? We had my mom help out a ton so grandma came to the rescue on that, but it's extremely stressful as a parent, and to be an efficient and effective employee, it's tough.
Q: How are child care businesses trying to bridge the gap between them and parents?
A: Gorte: They're trying to make their situation available. You heard Brianna talk about reserving spaces for existing families that are growing within their own centers so they can serve. They know they have to add people, (and) they know they have to add space. They’re limited by how many people they can have in a facility, so part of what grew out of all this stuff at the town hall is how do we create additional spaces too, so that there can be additional facilities with the caps that are there for how large certain facilities can be. One of those is the pod system where you can have up to four family centers, for example, co-located in one building where they can share some of the facilities, like kitchen facilities so that it's a way to increase availability with reducing the cost per child.
Q: Is there enough open space for new child care providers in East Grand Forks to fill the need?
A: Gorte: That's one of the goals was to bind spaces, and we're looking to see if we can find at least 100 spaces of land and facilities that will accommodate at least 100 spaces, which is only half the need, but it's a start. That's our goal in the next few months to find that and then have people be able to go into the spaces and take advantage of them. So that's something we're working on.