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Port: We are regulating young families out of our state

Rob Port

MINOT, N.D. -- Generations of politicians in North Dakota have struggled to address a consistent problem facing our state.

How do we get our young people to stay here? How do we get young people to move here to alleviate our chronic workforce shortages?

Short of playing host to an oil boom, which did reverse our trend toward a smaller and older population, we haven’t found a solution to that complicated problem.

One thing which might help is addressing the Kafkaesque bureaucracy which addles the childcare industry.

Because you know what young people like to do? Start families. And young families need access to affordable childcare.

That is not easy in North Dakota today.

The aforementioned bureaucracy is wildly inconsistent, running the gamut from disturbingly lax enforcement - a 2016 audit for the state Department of Human Services allowed child care centers to operate despite evidence of illicit drug use and “inappropriate touching” - to inconsistent crackdowns.

Earlier this year Fargo’s Curious Kids Childcare was forced to close down, over the strenuous and unanimous objections of the parents who patronized the business, because their license would be renewed after a couple of little ones escaped through a gate which was left open.

A disturbing incident, no doubt, yet similar incidents at other area child care centers didn’t result in license revocation.

Now comes a report from Forum News Service journalist Bonnie Meibers with details which ought to infuriate us.

Thanks to new federal regulations, child care workers can’t get started until after their background checks are completed. It used to be, once the checks were initiated, the employees were clear to work on a provisional basis. Now daycares must wait about a month or more before a new hire can start.

Can you imagine trying to operate a small business, on razor thin margins in an already obscenely regulated industry, when hiring new help is a process which takes more than a month?

Child care shortages are a crisis in many parts of the state, so much so parents hoping to get a spot at a daycare may have to get on a waiting list months before they even conceive a baby.

In her article Meibers quotes one parent describing waiting lists which are 15 to 16 months long.

It’s little wonder. Given the brutal bureaucracy daycare providers must contend with, why would anyone want to go into the business even given the abundant demand?

Some of you might argue this regulatory regime is needed to protect children and parents from malefactors.

If the regulations are so onerous it forces parents to find unregulated child care, or leave our area, what have we protected ourselves from?

We are in need of immediate reform, though I suspect it’s not in the offing.

Which politicians will go up against an entrenched bureaucracy arguing that any lessening of their power will put children in harm’s way?

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.