Simplified: Sioux Falls doesn't have enough childcare to accommodate the number of kids in town. And, even the options available can be too expensive for parents. But the leaders of a community initiative to find solutions say there's one group who will need to play a bigger role in finding solutions: local businesses.
Why it matters
- Statewide there's an affordability gap of about $636 million per year, according to data released by the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative earlier this year, which means parents can't afford to pay for childcare.
- Meanwhile, many childcare centers can't afford to pay workers enough to retain them. The collaborative found that childcare workers' average pay rate is $10.39/hour, far below what a person can make in most fast food or other entry-level jobs as wages skyrocket amid workforce shortages and inflation.
- Community Childcare Initiative leaders Nicole Fluth and Rana DeBoer have spent the last two months digging into the childcare crisis, and one of their early takeaways is that businesses must play a bigger role in finding solutions – just as they've done in other communities.
"When we’re really getting right down to it, the business community – we have to ask their support in supporting families to afford childcare," DeBoer said.
What could businesses do to help?
DeBoer and Fluth are quick to say there's no silver bullet solutions in this childcare conversation, but they did share some practical ways businesses could help. Those include:
- Looking at the business's benefits structure and asking if those benefits really support families,
- Offering a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account – essentially a way for parents to pay for childcare using money that isn't taxed,
- Assessing the maternity and paternity leave policies,
- Offering stipends to employees to help offset the ever-rising costs of childcare,
- Building relationships with providers to be able to reserve childcare slots specifically for employees.
"We just have to keep talking about what that means and how that helps them meet their bottom line," DeBoer said.
What other solutions are being explored?
Aside from the need to have businesses involved in the conversation, Fluth and DeBoer are also seeing a theme emerge that the city doesn't so much need new programs. It needs more support for programs that already exist.
- That includes everything from making sure the Helpline Center has staff to handle childcare-related calls to ensuring childcare providers have the resources they need to be successful as entrepreneurs and business owners.
The two women are also going to spend a lot of the next couple of months talking and listening to the community – businesses, childcare providers, parents and more.
It's a conversation everyone needs to be a part of, Fluth said.
"We're talking about how we're raising future community members," Fluth said. "It takes a community-level approach."
What happens next?
Business owners who want to learn more can attend an upcoming Dec. 8 meeting of the new South Dakota Child Care Business Collaborative – a statewide group looking to involve more businesses in childcare conversations.
Fluth and DeBoer will be looking to take those conversations and focus them through the lens of the Sioux Falls community.
They're also looking to spend the remaining four months of their contract digging even deeper into finding childcare solutions.
"We're trying to frame that house," DeBoer said of the last few months of research. "Now, we're building it."