ND childcare leaders sound the alarm, begging for more help to address care crisis

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:54 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Local childcare workers are yet again sounding the alarm tonight, as they say while legislators are working hard to make sure help is on the way, it’s not enough.

It’s no secret North Dakota childcare is in crisis. With the average daycare worker making just over $11 dollars per hour with few benefits, finding staff is difficult for providers which means fewer kids are able to be cared for.

“The number of people on our waiting list for infants? 121 people. By the time I can get them into the 40 slots I have in 5 programs, I can tell you, they will be 4 years old,” Lorrie Thoemke with YMCA of Cass & Clay Counties said.

Based on a study done by the ND Childcare Action Alliance, a policy recommendation of a childcare workforce fund has been brought forward which would provide supplemental wages and benefits to child care workers to raise pay and ensure the state can maintain and expand daycare access.

In an emergency news conference called Friday afternoon, women from five various care centers and groups addressed the many issues plaguing daycare providers and staff. One of the largest problems in child care? Fingerprints. A valuable resource to background check those wanting to work with kids, but it’s a process officials say has recently become severely delayed.

“We can’t get in our employees for appointments at the county, so we actually hire in a gun dealer to come here and do our fingerprints. We have to get creative just to employ people,” CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley, Robin Nelson said. Other providers say they were forced to buy their own fingerprint machine to try to find a shortcut to the issue.

Nelson says what used to take 48 hours to both take prints and get results back, now takes more than a month.

“Obviously we do need a new system. This is not working,” Thoemke said.

The women added a recent law change has hamstrung hiring young people specifically as those on probation, even for non-violent, misdemeanor crimes not on the state’s barrier list, are no longer allowed to work at daycares.

“They got a minor in consumption, they can’t be hired,” Jolene Garty with South East Education Cooperative said.

“We have a current employee we had to fire because she got a minor in consumption. Guess where her day job is? She’s a paraprofessional at Fargo Public Schools. We had to fire her,” Nelson said.

The provider shortage is forcing many parents to leave the workforce, while also causing others to question their choice of child care.

“Some people are making the choice of having to send their kids somewhere they don’t feel comfortable,” Kristin Knorr with the North Dakota Afterschool Network said.

“We don’t have teachers in the school because they don’t have childcare. We don’t have nurses because the childcare program doesn’t open until 7. They need to be there at 7,” Thoemke said. “We have people that are getting called at 2:30 in the afternoon, ‘Please come pick up your kid because the teacher is sick and we have no one who can take care of them.’”

While legislators have vowed to and are trying to help, with several bills proposed in this year’s session, the women say those efforts can only work so fast and go so far. They urge state agencies and other leaders to step in before the child care crisis turns catastrophic.

“Even if the legislation passes, when will it be in place? We don’t have a year to get these problems solved,” Thoemke said.

“This can’t keep happening. People can’t keep begging. We need to see a solution and we need to see it now,” Amy Jacobson with the North Dakota Childcare Action Alliance said.