By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN As the economy improves, more and more parents are returning to work and having the need for daycare.
Limited daycare options in the Dassel-Cokato community, however, has left many parents driving out of the district in order to meet their daycare needs, or relying on trusted family, friends, and neighbors.
Finding a licensed daycare provider in the community has become increasingly more difficult for parents, particularly in the past six years as the number of providers has dropped and the waiting lists grow.
“Our community is truly in a daycare crisis,” said Jane Ryan, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator for the Dassel-Cokato Early Childhood Center.
“We keep a list [of local providers] and it’s gotten shorter,” Ryan noted.
The numbers began dropping in 2008, during the recession. Parents were losing their jobs and there was no longer a need for daycare, Ryan explained.
Eventually, some daycares no longer had enough children to keep their doors open, she said. An example she gave was a daycare center in Dassel that was forced to close because they lost too many children.
As the economy improved and parents either went back to work or school, there became a greater demand for daycares in the Dassel-Cokato area. Now, there’s not enough providers to keep up with the demand, she said.
The community lost four daycares in just over a year, Ryan noted. Now, “all of our daycares are full.”
Becky Domjahn of Wright County Human Services noted Cokato historically has had a shortage of licensed child care providers, based on the number of calls they receive from parents looking for child care.
From 2009 to 2012, Cokato averaged eight family child care providers. Currently, there are five licensed family child care providers in Cokato, with one application pending for a license, Domjahn. No information was available for Dassel from Meeker County.
Contributing to the recent decline in daycare, Domjahn suspects it’s partially because daycare providers are going back to their field of choice as the economy improves.
“I always feel guilty,” said daycare provider Debbie Burandt, of turning parents away when they call looking for an opening.
Burandt has been a licensed daycare provider in Dassel for 27 years and she feels sorry for parents who are looking for a place to provide care for their children.
“We get calls all the time,” Burandt said, “Three calls this past month.”
She currently has two expectant mothers, but she won’t have openings until the next school year.
Burandt is licensed for 14 children with a helper, or 12 on her own. The number of infants she is allowed to have is dependent on a ratio. For example, she can have only one infant if she has two 1-year-olds; or two infants if the other children are more than 1 year old. She could have three infants, however, if she had no other children.
Finding daycare for infants and toddlers under age 3 is the hardest in the Dassel-Cokato community, Ryan said. “We really don’t have a daycare center for newborns on up,” she said.
Parent Danielle Imberg of Cokato found this to be true after a health issue with her provider forced her to look elsewhere for daycare.
As a part-time nurse who works shifts, finding daycare makes it increasingly difficult for Imberg. As a mother of a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old, it’s also harder to find daycares that have availability for infants and toddlers, she said.
“I think it’s a big problem,” Imberg said of finding open daycares in the area. This is an issue she shares with other parents, she said.
The shortage leaves parents to turn to their own family members, friends, or neighbors to watch their children. Or, like Imberg, she looked outside the community and now takes her children to a daycare in Waverly.
Though she works in Hutchinson, her husband commutes to the Twin Cities and the location isn’t an issue.
The age of the providers is also increasing, showing a gap in the number of young women who are choosing to become daycare providers.
“There are three of us in Dassel (out of six) over 50,” Burandt said.
The regulations put in place for daycare licensing is also likely a deterrent for anyone considering daycare as a profession.
Domjahn said one has to consider it as a business venture. It’s not just taking care of a couple of children. She said it’s important to understand there are rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure the safety of children.
Darlene “Bunny” Carlen of Cokato is 73 and still doing daycare after 48 years.
She gets asked all the time why she doesn’t just retire. “I think it’s good to keep busy, and as long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing it,” Carlen said.
Through daycare she has also made a lot of good friends. “And, I love what I’m doing,” Carlen said.
What’s fun for her is connecting with the children she used to do daycare for. This summer, for example, she went to four weddings of kids she once cared for.
She is even doing daycare for second-generation families, such as Mandy (Berggren) Weinandt, who wouldn’t take her kids anywhere else.
Weinandt went to Carlen while her mother, Gail, taught at Cokato Elementary just down the street. When she was a toddler, her sister got sick and her mom had to stay home. Her mom told her she wouldn’t need to go to daycare that day.
“Nope,” Weinandt told her mother. “I’m going to Bunny’s.”
“It was awesome. All of my friends were here, and she was the best cook in the world.”
Now, Weinandt’s three children also go to Carlen.
In fact, she was actually the first person Weinandt told when she found out she was first pregnant because she wanted to insure a spot.
Carlen gets calls all the time for newborns, she said.
“I can’t take anymore babies,” she said, noting the shortage of daycares forces parents to call months ahead even before the child is born to have a chance at reserving a spot. “They have to.”
Interested in becoming a provider?
If anyone is interested in becoming licensed for child care, or if they have questions regarding the process, they are encouraged to contact their county social services.
Orientation sessions are open to the public and anyone who is interested in becoming licensed is encouraged to attend. Registration is not required.
For inquiries and orientation dates and locations, call Wright County Human Services at (763) 682-7485, or Meeker County Social Services at (320) 693-5300.