Special report part 3: Experts offer potential solutions to child care crisis in S.D.

Two recent in-depth studies were conducted on the shortage of child care in South Dakota, one examining the situation statewide and another focused specifically on Sioux Falls.

Here is a look at the recommendations on how to improve access to affordable, reliable, quality child care, according to the two reports.

Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative report, August 2021

Here is a summary of potential solutions from the August 2021 report conducted by the Beacom Research Fellows in the Augustana Research Institute and commissioned by the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative. The report is titled “Expensive and Inaccessible: Childcare in Sioux Falls South Dakota.”

The report’s conclusion is that, “Overall, the child care system in Sioux Falls is broken on many levels. The cost of child care is astronomical relative to parents’ incomes, making if unaffordable for many families in Sioux Falls, which leads to some parents dropping out of the workforce.”

In regard to possible solutions, the report suggests:

— Increasing financial support for families and making more families in Sioux Falls eligible for financial assistance.

Current financial assistance is available only to very low-income families, leaving many middle-income families unable to qualify for assistance and unable to afford child care.

— Incentivizing employers to do more to make child care available and accessible to employees. This could include flexible work arrangements, educating employees about tax breaks or subsidies available to them, creating Flexible Spending Accounts of up to $5,000 for employees, providing child care benefits or subsidies to parents, offering in-house child care access, and providing backup for workers in child care crises. Employers would work with local child care providers to develop employee daycare plans, and seek ways to allow parents to work from home.

— Expanding assistance to daycare providers who accept birth to five aged children, enabling providers to offer financial assistance or scholarships to low-income families. Additional financial assistance to providers would also allow them to raise wages for daycare employees, thereby allowing them to expand child care slots or available service hours.

— Seeking ways to create more child care slots for children in Sioux Falls. This could include proving financial assistance for providers to expand or providing business mentoring to aid the ability of providers to expand.

The collaborative report concludes: “The visibly broken child care system deserves to be fixed and funded to the benefit of Sioux Falls families, employers and the community as a whole.”

South Dakota Kids Count child care report, December 2021

Here is a look at the suggestions contained within the recent South Dakota Kids Count report titled, “A modern economy depends on child care; South Dakota can make it affordable and accessible.”

The report’s conclusions include: “Child care is a critical component of a modern and thriving economy. High-quality and affordable care is essential for parents to stay in the workforce. Child care businesses operate on narrow margins, struggle to pay adequate wages, and have high staff turnover. South Dakota needs innovative, long-term solutions to build a better child care system that works for children, parents and businesses.”

Suggested solutions in the report include:

— Update regulations so more programs are licensed, registered and regulated. South Dakota’s law allowing unregulated daycare facilities with 11 or fewer children is more lenient than neighboring states.

— Prioritize federal child care stabilization grants into areas with greatest need, including communities with low incomes, people of color and children with special needs.

— Expand federal Head Start offerings, particularly in tribal communities. Data show that only a small percentage of eligible families make use of federally subsidized child care programs.

— Provide grants or other funding sources to enable construction of new daycare facilities or expansion of existing providers.

— Encourage public/private partnerships to find funding and develop innovative ideas for expanding access to child care.

— Implement a quality rating program. South Dakota does post inspection reports of registered child care programs on the state website, but the report calls for greater parental access to data on provider quality.

— increase pay for child care workers and expand professional development opportunities.

— Create outreach campaigns to better inform parents about assistance programs and other options to improve access to child care. Waive co-payments on subsidized care for low-income families or families of color.