SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Sioux Falls needs an official office with proper accreditation guiding child care and youth development.
That’s one of the main takeaways from the 97-page report released by the Sioux Falls Child Care Collaborative last month. In a meeting with city council members, Sioux Falls Thrive President Michelle Erpenbach the creation of an official organization to deal with child care and youth development issues would be a place to start to help young families in the community.
On Wednesday, Erpenbach told KELOLAND News the child and youth development office is needed at the local level.
“There are lots of possibilities,” Erpenbach said. “It could be a city-county collaboration, it could be a city-economic development collaboration. It might just sit in an economic development office. The whole point is that we all need to be part of this conversation.”
Currently, the Sioux Falls Health Department only oversees in-home child care registrations and inspections within city limits, while the South Dakota Department of Social Services oversees child care financial assistance as well as state registered, state licensed and unregulated child care providers.
Erpenbach said a statewide child care task force would be welcomed and pointed to a Child Care Task Force created by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds as a good comparison.
“Those employers can count on their workforce because the state has put priority on the child care industry,” Erpenbach said. “We need to recognize the child care industry as the important part of our economy that it is. It needs support, it needs to be recognized as professionals. We need to have that sort of oversight and support for them and that’s where that office would work.”
Democratic Rep. Erin Healy said she believes Sioux Falls should embrace a local office of child and youth development.
“I think that this really could be a lesson for the state if we had somewhat of a pilot program and a pilot office, a child care office to really take the lead,” Healy told KELOLAND News. “I think that is a great place to start. We really need to start investing more in our families. There is such a large economic impact with child care and moving our workforce forward.”
Healy was returning from meetings with state lawmakers across the country at The White House on child care. She noted there are counties in South Dakota where there’s no state-registered child care options.
Funding is a problem
When it comes to creating an office of child and youth development, Erpenbach said money and funding are barriers.
South Dakota is one of a handful of states that does not have any state funding toward early childhood education or child care funding.
“We know that fewer than 80% of our working parents make less than $100,000 a year in this community. What we’re doing is putting on their backs the burden of our workforce development,” Erpenbach said. “We need to take that on as a community. Put it on all our backs, let’s all carry this load for them, make it better for all of us.”
Sioux Falls City Council members discussed the importance of a third party to help make the business of child care work. Other council members pointed to working with state leaders for solutions.
In 2022, state lawmakers approved $100 million in federal funding for state regulated child care providers in South Dakota. In 2023, there was only one bill written involving the topic of child care and that bill was tabled.
Healy said some sort of subsidizing conversation needs to happen.
“We know that there’s going to be a huge return on investment,” Healy said. “This is tomorrow’s future and these parents are available to work right now.”
Erpenbach cited a comparison to the agriculture industry that was made by
Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis.
“He was here in Sioux Falls and talked about child care being as critical to us as the food industry,” Erpenbach said. “We have as a nation subsidized our food system for a long time because it needs to be affordable to our people. Child care is the same way. We’re building the future workforce. It needs to be supported by the community as a whole.”
Erpenbach confirmed there is no timeline for starting an office of child and youth development. She said the sooner an official office can start, the better.
“We need to move now,” Erpenbach said.