childcare room

A 2019 photo shows one of the rooms which will be used for child care in Littlefork.

A child care facility will be established in Littlefork as a part of an award of $90,000 in grants to assist in offering child care in northeastern Minnesota.

An $85,000 child care economic development grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, or DEED, along with $5,000 from the Northland Foundation’s grant funds, has been distributed as grant awards to five new child care entities and one expanding child care.

The grants have been awarded to:

  • Littlefork Child Care Pod Model Project, Littlefork, start-up
  • City of Cohasset Childcare and Community Center, Cohasset, start-up
  • Hope for Kids (Hope United Methodist), Duluth, start-up
  • New Hope FOR Families, Duluth, start-up
  • Brandie's Little Bear Learning Center, Eveleth, start-up
  • Itasca County YMCA WeeFolksgarten Child Care Center, Grand Rapids, expansion

The Littlefork project is the start-up of a community collaborative “pod model” child care facility that would house two family child care providers in the Koochiching Health Services building in Littlefork and be coordinated by KOOTASCA Community Action agency. The community collaborative pod-model solution for the local child care shortage breaks down barriers for new providers by providing them with space, resources, support, and equipment for starting their business. Koochiching Health Services will be supporting the project by offering providers low-cost rent including utilities. They will also offer food service options.

Littlefork 'pod' model

An analysis conducted in the middle of 2018 by First Children’s Finance showed a shortage of 342 child care slots in Koochiching County. Investment rates for child care are high for families, but many child care operations are charging less than market average making profit margins slim. Providers are putting significant portions of tuition back into their operations leaving providers with less than minimum wage for compensation.

Many families working on the lower end of the wage spectrum have difficulty paying for child care. The total population living below poverty in Koochiching County is 17.1 percent, higher than the rest of the state and United States.

According to the community survey conducted, working parents stated the biggest impacts of child care limitations included absence from work, inability to work overtime or different shifts, and tardiness to work. It also said 24 percent of parents in Koochiching County stated that they did not enroll their child in paid child care because it was too expensive, with 14 percent saying there was no availability, and another 14 percent stating that child care did not exist near them.

The Koochiching Resource Council, as part of First Children’s Finance Rural Child Care Innovation Program, identified implementation projects to address the local child care challenge. One of the solutions was creating a community collaborative pod model option for child care. The Littlefork project will be administered by KOOTASCA Community Action in collaboration with the Koochiching Resource Council.

Multiple locations were evaluated for siting the pod model, and the Littlefork Care Center of St. Francis Health Services was selected because it offers several advantages. The location now hosts elderly advanced care and assisted living. Adding a child care facility would make it a multi-generational care center, allowing for interaction between all age groups and enhancing the quality of life for each individual. Littlefork, 20 miles outside of International Falls, now has one just family provider. Organizers said this area of the county is in desperate need of child care, which is impacting employers and workers in the area.

Creating a community collaborative pod model would support new providers coming into the child care industry and create additional needed slots for children, some of which are not now in secure learning environments. The project gives the opportunity to leverage multiple resources, build partnerships, and advocate for sustainability; strengthening the existing child care business and increasing the supply of high-quality child care in Koochiching County, said organizers.

The Koochiching Resource Council also received a grant from the Koochiching Community Development Association for $5,000 for the Littlefork Community Collaborative Pod Model Project. The funding will help provide updated heating and air conditioning, a remodeled bathroom to support child care supervision and child care equipment for both rooms.

About the grant

“Access to high-quality child care is absolutely essential for families and our region’s economy to thrive," stated Tony Sertich, president of the Northland Foundation, in a news release. "It’s encouraging to see new businesses underway, and growth for existing child care sites, to help meet the need in area communities."

The DEED money can be used for staff training, facility modifications or improvements required for licensing, assistance with licensing or other regulatory requirements, and child care equipment from furniture to playground materials. It is anticipated that, when fully operational, the six grant recipients will offer care for 341 children and provide 61 jobs.

In 2017 and 2018, DEED Child Care Economic Development Grants provided $215,000 to the Northland Foundation, which helped fund 10 other northeastern Minnesota child care projects which resulted in 330 child care openings and 49 jobs.

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