Daycare In Danger

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Cutbacks in childcare subsidies keep Native American children from receiving quality childcare

Some of Minneapolis’ largest Native American childcare facilities are cutting back their services to children because families are having a tougher time qualifying for subsidies from Hennepin County.

Recent cutbacks have taken place at Four Directions Family Center at Little Earth and Cherish the Children Learning Center at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.

Cherish the Children eliminated its school-age program last year and is currently serving nearly a dozen less children than before.

And Four Directions closed one preschool classroom and eliminated 16 children slots.

The classroom was closed despite the growing need to prepare young

children for school. “We could run across the street and be overwhelmed

with children who need childcare,” said Leila Goggleye, program

director at Four Directions.

“We have some really great, culturally appropriate childcare, but it’s

not available to the working poor. Many of our families are on MFIP and

the parents are required to jump through hoops that frequently seem

unreasonable,” said Goggleye.

Parents are also having a harder time finding assistance to go to other

childcare providers. Cherish the Children Learning Center are seeing

children lose out on quality childcare because families no longer

qualify for aid or must jump through too many hoops.

“Our enrollment is low because we serve children that are subsidized.

Over ninety percent of our children are funded through Hennepin

County,” said Heather Reynolds, director of Cherish the

Children.Turning away children that need care can be heart-breaking for

the directors, but the programs cannot afford to keep losing money.

“Just yesterday, we had to turn away a family,” said Reynolds. A man

had suddenly received custody of two children, and his employer assured

him that Hennepin County had authorized subsidies for his children.

“But we had to turn him away, because the county couldn’t provide us

with the written authorization. We didn’t want to turn him down, but

we’ve lost a lot of money in the past,” Reynolds said.

Goggleye agreed that families are having a tougher time qualifying for subsidies.

“There’s been a huge change in the requirements for the parents at MFIP

(Minnesota Family Investment Program). Families really have a tough

time jumping through the hoops set by the county,” said Goggleye.

The result, children no longer receive quality childcare. “We have kids

taking care of kids,” she said. And staying at home with an older

sibling might not provide the early education that a child needs.

“We also see children being bounced around between different relatives

and different friends when consistency is one of the most important

needs of young children,” said Goggleye.

Those bureaucratic hoops can be quite frustrating. Reynolds described

how a Great Aunty was told by the county she had to adopt her two

relatives or they would be placed with another family.

“Of course she adopted, but she immediately lost her childcare

subsidies and those two children no longer attend our program,”

Reynolds said.

And sometimes the county simply cuts a family off. “Another mother

isn’t bringing her children back because she hit the maximum number of

years that she can receive subsidies,” she said.

Neither director is bashing the county.

“I know there’s no perfect answer and I know the people at Hennepin

County are working their butts off trying to make it work, but we need

to put the children’s needs first,” Reynolds said.

Goggleye agreed that the priority needs to be the child. “Childcare is

set up to serve the needs of the child. But childcare assistance is

only available based on what the parents do and don’t do,” she said.

And we know that early childhood education has a positive effect on a child’s future.

“We’ve had some really good outcomes in kindergarten readiness.

Children who have been here on a consistent basis have left here at age

5 ready for kindergarten,” Goggleye said.

The need for quality early childhood education has been documented in

many studies, including a local study done by the Brookings Institute

for the Itasca Project.

The Itasca Project includes 40+ community leaders: including CEOs,

Governor Pawlenty, Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the

president of the University of Minnesota. And they recommend Early

Childhood Education as one of the top priorities for the Metro Area.

“Quality childcare is an important piece of helping a child be successful,” Goggleye said.

But despite widespread agreement on the need, cuts continue to

eliminate opportunity for Native American children of the working poor.

“If we could get people to look at childcare as an important piece of

helping a child be successful, then maybe we could get a

change,”Goggleye said.