You just found out you’re pregnant. Congratulations! Now immediately start calling childcare providers to reserve a spot for the tiny human you just discovered in your belly. Yes, people often start looking for daycare in their first trimester because it can be that hard. But with some knowledge, preparation, and luck—it is possible to find quality care for your baby.
I know because my partner and I just went through the finding-childcare dance over a year ago with our first baby. We made some mistakes in the process, but learned a lot and ended up at an amazing daycare center.
Here’s what I learned along the way about finding childcare in Minnesota.
Childcare in Minnesota
First things first—what is the state of childcare in Minnesota? Not that great. In general, there’s a major shortage and it’s too expensive. And these problems hit rural Minnesota even harder.
More than one in 10 parents statewide and one in five low-income parents report that childcare problems have kept them from getting or keeping a job in a given year, according to an Amherst H. Wilder Foundation report. Families either can’t find an opening, or they can’t afford the steep price tag. According to Child Care Aware Minnesota, rural families can pay up to $206 a week for infant care, and families in the metro area often fork out more than $324 per week. That’s like another mortgage, in case you were wondering.
So, what are your options?
Don’t get discouraged quite yet. There are lots of quality options to choose from if you start early enough. Below, we break down some of the most common types of childcare services and what to know about each one.
- Daycare centers: These programs are licensed through the Minnesota Department of Human Services or tribal human services agency and provide care and education for children in age-based groups. These programs are often in businesses, community centers, or places of worship.
- Pros: Larger staffs, flexible schedules (centers are typically open 10-12 hours daily), and structured routines.
- Cons: Larger groups and structured routines may not fit every child's needs, and staff turnover is common.
- Family Child Care Homes: Commonly known as in-home care, Family Child Care (FCC) Homes are licensed through the county or tribal human services agency. These professionals may care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children in their homes.
- Pros: The family-like environment, flexible hours, the mix of age groups and the ability to keep siblings together.
- Cons: Family child care homes are often staffed by one caregiver, so back up care is needed when the care provider becomes ill or plans a vacation.
- Nannies: Nannies often have professional training and experience, and come to your home to care for your children.
- Pros: Caregivers come to your home and are able to develop a strong relationship with your child and your family.
- Cons: Backup care is need if the nanny is ill or plans a vacation. Also, as their employer, you may be responsible for contributing to Social Security, taxes, workers' compensation costs, insurance and vacation time.
- Drop-In Programs: Drop-in programs provide immediate, short-term care for a few hours at a time and are usually located in shopping malls and community centers.
- Pros: You don’t have to secure a permanent spot and can thus avoid recurring weekly/monthly payments to save money.
- Cons: Openings may not always be available when you need it, and you may not know the caregivers and how they interact with your child.
- Family, Friends, Neighbors: Unlicensed caregivers provide care for their own children, related children, and/or those of a friend or neighbor.
- Pros: Affordable, flexible and the fact that your child is with someone you trust.
- Cons: Caregivers may not meet state health and safety requirements, may lack training, and groups sizes may be larger than is ideal for children.
Considerations in choosing childcare
So now that you know the types of care available, which one is right for you? Here are some things to consider when choosing the right childcare for your family and child:
- Infants are the most difficult age group to find care for (and are by far the most expensive). If you’re a parent that plans on returning to work after your baby is born, you’ll want to secure childcare ASAP.
- Do you need full or part-time care? Some centers offer part-time care for half the price if you’re looking to save money and your schedule allows for it.
- Does size matter? Finding out the ratio of staff members to children should not be overlooked. When a staff member is responsible for fewer children, the more individual attention your child will receive.
- If you nurse and/or plan on sending bottles of breastmilk, check with daycares on their policies during your search. Some don’t accept breastmilk at all, and some only take it up until 6 or 12 months.
- Does your child have any dietary restrictions or special needs? Some care providers don’t follow requests well and/or don’t have resources available to meet special requests.
Finding help paying for childcare
The cost of care can be a significant barrier for families looking for quality programs for their child. Good news—there are several financial aid programs and tax relief plans that can help make care more affordable. Parent Aware and Think Small have good rundowns of all financial assistance resources in Minnesota, including the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Child Care Assistance Program. You can also check out this free Financial Aid Screening Tool from Bridge to Benefits to see if you may be eligible for public work support programs.
You are (hopefully) prepared as you’ll ever be, so here’s a guide to finding the right care for your child.
- Get a list: There are plenty of online resources that can help in your search. Websites like Parent Aware and Think Small will give you a list of child care options based on parameters you’ve set in their search criteria (i.e. location, size, cost, ratings, etc.). They basically do most of the work for you, so use these resources if you can!
- Call around: Take your list, bust out the phone and start calling providers and programs to check for openings. But be warned—some of my friends called up to 40 care providers before finding any openings. So hike up those maternity pants and get comfy.
- Visit programs: Once you’ve narrowed down your search, set up a time to visit each program and arrange an interview. Ask questions, be nosey and observe a classroom.
- Check references, records and state/county incident reports: Request references from families who are currently using the program you are considering. A clean health and safety record is also important, so take the time to review the program’s licensing information.
- Make your selection: Sign any necessary paperwork and/or make a down payment to secure your spot. I may or may not have called our daycare of choice three times to double and triple check we were all set.
- Start saving money, if possible: Seriously, start putting a little bit away every month to make those monthly payments a little more bearable once they start. We had to rebudget—which meant no more gym membership and weekly trips to COSTCO instead of the co-op.
This is just a start. Here are some resources that were super helpful in my childcare search:
- Think Small - Provides services, resources, and advocacy for early childhood education in Minnesota.
- ChildCare Aware of Minnesota - Provides local resources and a referral system for culturally-diverse childcare needs.
- Parent Aware - Gives parents tools and information to find the best quality childcare and early education.
- Care.com - Connects families with caregivers and caring companies.
- Minnesota Department of Human Services - Gives financial aid information.
Good luck! Every parent’s journey to finding childcare is unique, and not all are difficult. After some work, I lucked out and found a daycare center within walking distance to my house—it’s not perfect, but it works and I know my baby is cared for and loved.
As parents and caregivers, that’s all we can really ask for.
This post was provided in-kind by Sara Blair of gish&co., Ova Woman's social media partner.