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More day care rules strain GF County staff

GRAND FORKS — Increased state and federal requirements have created a growing workload for the two Grand Forks County workers in charge of licensing child care facilities — but they’re welcoming the extra work.

“It’s good for children, good for families,” said Sandy Brandt. “It’s a good problem to have, it’s just the logistics of trying to keep up with (the work) with excellence and in a timely manner.”

She and Kari Olson are early childhood licensing specialists at county Social Services.

They said many requirements ensure safety in child care facilities. For example, background checks are stricter for all child care facilities and more training is needed for “self-declaration” providers, which are providers that care for five or fewer children in a private home.

But it also means Brandt and Olson need more help to keep up.

Seeking help

Though requirements have increased, Olson said, the overall number of licensed child care providers has remained stable and the number of self-declared providers has decreased.

After finding out a couple of months ago about more upcoming changes to requirements for self-declaration providers, including the addition of a yearly visit by Olson or Brandt, Social Services started looking for ways to make licensing more efficient, said Director Ed Christ.

Christ, Brandt and Olson updated the County Commission on the situation at its meeting last week.

Social Services is considering having some support staff assist Brandt and Olson, Christ said. State departments are also looking for ways to help, for example with fingerprinting and background checks, he said, and Social Services also reached out to Grand Forks Public Health and Cass County.

If needed, he said he may also consider adding staff or seeking contracted workers.

“We’re just looking at a lot of different options,” Christ said. “We’re looking at how we can be more efficient here so we can address these extra responsibilities.”

Christ, Olson and Brandt are confident they’ll find a way to deal with these increased requirements.

“We’re just dealing with some internal growing pains is all,” Brandt said.

She added that child care workers are also adjusting to licensure requirements as they change.

“It places increased responsibilities on us and on the providers, too, and we have some amazing providers out there,” Brandt said.

Amber Schiller, director for United Day Nursery in Grand Forks, said the main adjustment her staff has made recently is being fingerprinted.

Since a law change in September, child care workers who have lived outside North Dakota in the past 10 years have to be fingerprinted, Schiller said. A few of her staff have had to do that, especially because Grand Forks is on the Minnesota border and before September, the fingerprinting rule exempted Minnesota, she said.

But, like Olson and Brandt, Schiller said her staff doesn’t mind the extra work.

“In order to ensure the safety of the kids, it’s important,” she said.

Other tasks

Brandt added that she and Olson have other responsibilities outside of child care licensure.

Olson manages Children’s Special Health Care, which provides medical assistance to children with qualifying incomes and medical conditions. Brandt manages Crossroads, which helps teenage parents access child care, and she also manages subsidized adoption, which assists families adopting foster children and has an increasing number of cases, she said.

Brandt and Olson reiterated that the extra work is good, because it means better child care, and there is a need for child care facilities.

Olson said Social Services has been getting more requests recently from parents searching for child care.

“We would welcome more child care,” Brandt said. “There’s a need, and we would support it.”

Legislative changes to child care

Some legislative changes to child care in 2013:

* Expands eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program, so more families are eligible to receive assistance with paying for child care.

* Increases maximum numbers in age groups, meaning more children of each age can be admitted to child care centers, as long as they still meet the required ratios of staff per children.

* If a care center has sufficient indoor play space, it can have an exemption from the “outdoor space requirement.”

* Definition of “group child care” changed to providing services to 30 or fewer children instead of 18 or fewer.

Source: Grand Forks County Social Services

Child care providers in GF County

According to Kari Olson, early childhood licensing specialist for Grand Forks County Social Services, the county has:

* 125 licensed child care homes.

* 16 child care centers.

* 30 to 40 “self-declaration,” child care facilities, which care for five or fewer children in a private home.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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