Caring about daycare

EJ Photo/Travis Charlson

The lack of child-care options in Mitchell County

Snow days are often the highlight of the week for young children, but for local parents, they often turn quickly into a headache. While the child can put their pencil down for a day and forget about those math assignments and spelling tests, the parents still have to go to work.

The problem? There’s a shortage of daycare options in the area. Once “cancelled” runs across the bottom of the TV screen during the morning news, many parents have to scramble to find someone to watch their kid during the day. 

The EJ recently sat down with Wee Saints Daycare director Rose Minnis to discuss the current need for daycare, and what is being done to help. Here are her remarks, lightly edited for clarity:

What do you see is the biggest need for daycare on our area?

More room. In a perfect world, we’d have a whole other building attached here and enough staff to cover it. Those are probably the biggest needs in Mitchell County, probably for all the daycares. It’s a huge need. 

And that’s the hard part— we’re non profit so we have to get funding to add on, and then finding enough staff once you do. 

How many kids can you take currently?

We’re licensed for 78 children, so we can’t go over that. Right now we have 84 enrolled, which some are part time. So we have to schedule monthly so we know when children are coming and going so they’re not all here at once. I have 15 staff, some are part time. 

I know there’s talk in the community, like ‘Oh can’t you take more kids?’, but we’re at as many as we can take, within our building. We don’t just take drop-ins. We’re a licensed center by DHS, so the kids have to have all of their paper work, a doctor’s physical, immunizations up to date, all of that stuff. 

We have more families that are expanding, more three and four child families. It’s great for St. Ansgar, we’re having more kids. It’s just trying to find room for everyone.

What about staff? Could you take more kids if you had more staff?

That’s a struggle. There is always a turnover in daycare, so it’s hard to find people that enjoy working full time with the qualities to work with children. I know in the Mitchell County area—Stacyville, Osage—they also struggle with finding help. There is definitely a need.  

It goes by square footage— how many kids you can be licensed to care for— and we added on in 2010. We have four rooms, and when we added on we added a storm shelter and made it a multipurpose and made it a classroom, so we could take 40 more kids at the time. And we expanded on to have two baby rooms, because we had so many infants on our waiting lists. We have a playground that’s attached, but we just don’t have a lot of space here.

There’s also staff-to-child ratios required for every age group. For four babies, you need one staff. Six two-year-olds per one staff, eight three-year-olds for one staff, and 4 and up you can have 15 per one staff. But then you have to stay within your capacity per room. 

 What would you tell a parent looking for a daycare for their child?

Our school-age group right now is very full. Right now we have a lot of school age kids and younger that are already enrolled, so we just don’t have a lot of extra openings. 

We have a waiting list, and as soon as there is an opening, we go to the top of the list and sometimes they’ve already found another daycare. Sometimes people travel to Austin or Mason City for their job, and they enroll them in a daycare there for now. But we have the preschool here, so we try to get them in so they can get into the school system here. 

Where else can parents look?

St Ansgar has always had more in-home daycares than we have now. There are more in Osage, but some of them are retiring, so I know some of them have closed. Usually that helps us balance out until we can get people in.  

The school has been talking about doing some after school programs, or some summer, school-age programs, just to help out with the older kids that aren’t old enough to stay home but still need activities and supervision. There’s talk in the community about ‘is there a need for that?”, and I think there is. Kids are a little older when they start staying home alone now. But every child is different.

We also have a fundraiser coming up, a luncheon at the Legion on April 27 staring at 11 a.m. It’s the only one we do all year. It’s a nice way for us to get out to the community, let them know what we’re doing. We’re actually fundraising for a new sign out front, the winter had kind of taken a toll on it. 

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