By Ashley Hallberg, Capacity Building Team Leader
It’s no secret that Minnesota is in the midst of a child care crisis. Quality child care in Minnesota has become hard to find, hard to secure, and even harder to afford. Early childhood professionals, advocates, and community leaders have felt called upon to help parents navigate this despairing climate and get creative with resources to begin rebuilding our crucial child care system.
In April of 2022 Think Small, in partnership with Ramsey County, launched a unique initiative that provides incentives and support services to attract and retain early childhood professionals and programs. The Ramsey County Early Childhood Academy is a three-year program, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act as part of the Ramsey County Investment and Support Efforts.
Between July 2022 and January 2023, 153 child care programs closed in the state of Minnesota. Of those 153 programs, 20 of the programs were located in Ramsey County. The county lost 18 Licensed Family Child Care programs and 2 Child Care Centers, this equates to hundreds of children left without care in 6 short months. The Capacity Building Team at Think Small connected with closed programs across the state to determine the most common reasons for program closure. These suggestive data collections help Think Small launch calculated pilot programs, just like the Academy, to meet the most urgent needs of early childhood educators in Minnesota. The Ramsey County Early Childhood Academy is built around two main focuses, retention and recruitment. In efforts to retain current child care programs, the Academy offers free online training for educators and financial supports available twice per year. These supports also encourage participation in Parent Aware, Minnesota’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Historic data shows programs that participate in Parent Aware are less likely to close, due to access to resources and support. The Academy’s approach to recruitment is threefold, comprising of business supports, a mentorship opportunity, and free training. Participants have access to one-on-one business supports, including access to resources and a Learning Community series. Participants can also be paired with a mentor, someone currently licensed and Parent Aware rated in Ramsey County, to observe, gain, and apply critical skills. Along with the free trainings offered through Think Small Institute, participants also have access to a free online Child Development Associate (CDA) training program. Early Childhood Educators often earn a CDA to enter the field or to further their career and future teaching opportunities.
In the Ramsey County Early Childhood Academy’s first year, the program served a total of 178 providers, created or retained 1,100 Licensed Family Child Care slots, and created or retained 144 jobs. Of those 144 jobs, 84% of those jobs were in Licensed Family Child Care programs and 16% of those jobs were in Licensed Child Care Centers. The Academy also provided free CDA training packages to 19 individuals, provided business supports to 33 individuals, and distributed program retention support payments to 108 licensed family child care programs. Between February 2023 through June 2023, only 9 programs closed in Ramsey County (7 Family Child Care Programs and 2 Child Care Centers). A loss of 9 programs in 5 months is a permissible comparison when considering Ramsey lost 20 programs in the 6 months prior to that.
As Ramsey County Early Childhood Academy heads into its second year of service, Think Small and Ramsey County look forward to serving their community and creating big futures for their smallest residents. If you’re interested in learning more about this program, please visit: https://www.thinksmall.org/ramseycounty/