Since 1989, Southwestern Minnesota Community Action Council (SMOC) has been serving children, families, early childhood professionals, and communities through its Child Care Aware program (formerly known as Child Care Resource and Referral). In 2000, SMOC’s service area expanded to include all nine counties of Region 8: Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood and Rock. In these nine counties, there are 490 early childhood programs (family child care providers, child care centers, community preschools, and school-based programs) serving almost 6,700 children.
The need for child care is a popular topic of conversation. One city administrator stated, “Jobs, housing, and child care are the 3 most important issues for communities.” The recession years hit child care particularly hard. Businesses were closing, employees were losing jobs, and the cost of health care forced many child care providers out of business. Local economies are again growing, causing the need for child care to escalate. Working parents with young children need early childhood care and education options that are twelve months a year, from early morning until early evening. By partnering with United Way Success By 6, Child Care Aware was able to reach potential child care applicants and staff. By partnering with the Southwest Initiative Foundation, Child Care Aware was able to offer small incentive grants to recruit new family child care providers in each county. Retention of existing child care programs is as important as recruiting new programs in needed areas. By partnering with Help Me Grow, early childhood resources were provided at community events in all nine counties.