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Program adds childcare providers

FAIRMONT– While childcare continues to be a need in Martin County, the Prosper Project is working toward adding in-home childcare providers to address the shortage.

The Prosper Project started several years ago with a $250,000 grant from the Schmeeckle Foundation. The program aims to recruit new people into the childcare field and also support existing licensed providers.

In April of this year, the program added a coordinator role, filled by Samantha Chukuske, who is a licensed childcare provider in Welcome. Chukuske works as a mentor by helping new providers get licensed. She also serves as a source for existing providers.

Eric Snyder, a facilitator of the Prosper Project, said that since September, it’s helped three new childcare providers become licensed in Martin County. They are Courtney Krosch of Ceylon and Hannah Haugen and Sydney Jette, both of Fairmont.

Snyder said one of the things Chukuske does with each provider is work to come up with a development and investment plan.

“She talks to them about their experience, the things they’re comfortable with and areas they may want to learn more,” Snyder said.

As part of that plan, the Schmeeckle Foundation grants a stipend of $3,500 to new childcare providers.

“Sam will work with the new provider candidate to figure out what their individual interests are and put together a plan to spin that stipend,” Snyder said.

Chukuske said the stipend has proven very useful because one of the new providers couldn’t even start until they got a window replaced.

“Would that have turned her away from childcare because it’s such a big expense? But because of the stipend, she got it replaced and opened a couple weeks ago,” Chukuske said.

As for existing childcare providers, Snyder said an appreciation event was held in the spring. It also served as a sort of meet and greet so providers could get to know Chukuske.

Since then, several listening sessions, both in-person and virtual, have taken place. They have provided the opportunity for providers to share what kind of challenges they’re facing.

“One of the things we discovered is a lot of them were trying to figure out how to deal with inflation because the cost of food is a major input cost for family childcare providers. They were trying to figure out how to manage all of the increasing costs and not increase their tuition,” Snyder said.

He said some data and information was shared on how many providers have raised rates, etc.

Another new aspect of the Prosper Project that emerged this past summer is a substitute program, the idea for which came out of a listening session.

“Most of the childcare providers are just a one person show so when they have a doctor’s appointment or need to be away, it’s really hard for them because they’re busy Monday through Friday and if they do take time away, then it becomes a hardship for their families,” Snyder explained.

He said there’s a program in Minnesota where a substitute provider can come in and fill-in for an afternoon. While there are training requirements, the substitutes themselves don’t need to become licensed, but approved by the county licensor.

Snyder said different communities around the state have come up with different substitute programs. Prosper decided to invite the local providers to find someone in their family network, someone they know and trust, who could formally become their substitute.

He said to incentivize it, Prosper will reimburse the cost of the training and background study in order to remove the financial barriers of getting a substitute. So far one provider in Martin County has taken advantage of the program and gotten a substitute trained.

The Center for Rural Policy and Development, which is based in Mankato and legislatively funded, published a report in September that detailed the childcare crisis in rural Minnesota.

“One of the things they mentioned is that one of the things that drives people out of the childcare business is the inability to get away to have an appointment or see their kid in an activity or something,” Snyder said.

He said that was one of the quality of life aspects the Prosper Project wanted to address when it put together the substitute program.

Snyderalso shared that in the last legislative session, the state of Minnesota created a new role, an Ombudsperson for family childcare providers. The role is based within the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“That person is a full-time advocate for family childcare providers,” Snyder said.

The role is filled by Lisa Thompson. A reception was held in Fairmont earlier this month, which allowed local providers to meet and make a connection with Thompson.

Speaking on the importance of the Prosper Project as a whole, Chukuske said, “I think the biggest thing is the support. A lot of us didn’t know each other until we started attending these events. New providers coming in can meet providers who have been doing it for 10 or 30 years and ask questions. We’re not co-workers but it’s still nice to have a conversation with someone who does what we do everyday.”

As a provider in Martin County, Chukuske knows the need for more providers is high. She said Prosper Project’s goal is to get five new providers, up to 25. She said in Minnesota, in-home childcare providers can have 10 children the first year and after that they can go to 12, but only have eight under the age of 5.

However, a big shortage remains specifically for providers who can take infants.

“The most infants you can take is two and if you have two you can only have 10 children as your max,” Chukuske explained.

The addition of the three new providers helps alleviate the shortage, but they have filled up quickly and Chukuske said she still gets calls regularly asking if she has openings. However, she said all providers are happy to helps parents find care for their children.

“The care is so needed. Once we find out someone’s new and has openings, all of the providers are willing to share their number and if they get a call, they’ll pass on the number,” Chukuske said.

More information on the Prosper Project, as well as Chukuske’s contact info, can be found on prospermc.com.

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