Two Bemidji voices were part of a statewide roundtable discussion on childcare earlier this week.
The roundtable included DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, as well as child care providers and advocates.
The group met to discuss the challenges the industry has faced during the pandemic and the importance of high-quality, affordable child care.
“We are about 80,000 slots short in the state of Minnesota for child care right now, and it is one of the Governor’s and Lt. Governor’s big goals for their administration to drastically increase the number of slots we have in Minnesota so kids and their families have more access to child care,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove.
“DEED has made this a big area of focus through our Child Care Economic Development Grant Program and a big part of our ask for this legislative session is more money for that grant program.”
At Pine Pals Intergenerational Learning Center in Bemidji, the center is licensed for 96 children.
“We’re at about 75% capacity right now – and full for infants. Part of it is just trying to keep our group sizes smaller due to COVID,” said Director Lydia Pietruszewski.
The center was developed to provide intergenerational experiences for children and seniors in an adjacent residential care facility under the same ownership.
Despite the pandemic, “we take the kids next door and visit outside the windows,” she said. “They have an intercom and so our preschoolers and toddlers can talk to their ‘grandfriends.’”
“Businesses are very interested in helping solve the shortage of child care slots but, given the investment involved, they would like to see more flexibility and innovation in child care delivery options – such as the ability for employers to have up to four child care licenses,” said Erin Echternach, assistant director, Greater Bemidji, and a member of the Minnesota Family Child Care Task Force.