Child care center to stay open, concerns remain

Waitlists remain long despite an upcoming integration to the Shirley G. Moore Lab School.

<p>Psychiatry Assistant Professor Kristina Reigstad drops her 4-year-old Eve off at the University of Minnesota Child Development Center before heading to campus on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in Minneapolis. The University announced that the daycare would close last January, but reversed the decision after backlash from parents.</p>

Ellen Schmidt

Psychiatry Assistant Professor Kristina Reigstad drops her 4-year-old Eve off at the University of Minnesota Child Development Center before heading to campus on Wednesday, Oct. 3 in Minneapolis. The University announced that the daycare would close last January, but reversed the decision after backlash from parents.

Theresa Mueller and Austen Macalus

After months of waiting, parents with children at a popular child care center at the University of Minnesota were relieved to hear the center would remain open.

Last month’s decision to keep the Child Development Center open was a reversal from University President Eric Kaler’s plan last school year to close the center. However, ongoing concerns about child care, which includes long wait-lists at the CDC and a lack of options near campus, are fresh in parents’ minds. 

University administrators announced the decision — and future plans for child care at the Twin Cities — in a campus-wide statement Sept. 18, following recommendations from a campus-wide advisory committee. Under the new plan, the CDC will merge with the Shirley G. Moore Lab School into one, academically-rooted program. 

“We want parents to feel like their children are in good hands while they study or work at the University,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson of the new plans.

Kaler announced plans to close the CDC last January, but delayed the closure after widespread backlash from parents and a strong response from the greater community. 

Political science professor Kathryn Pearson was one of several parents involved in organizing opposition to the closure.

“Parents are extremely appreciative and excited about this path forward,” Pearson said. “We couldn’t imagine how it could possibly make sense to close the center, given how outstanding it is and the need for child care on campus.” 

Pearson’s 4-year-old daughter has two years left at the CDC, and she said she’s delighted her daughter will now get to stay at the center.

Many faculty and staff, including CDC Director Ann Edgerton, waited in anticipation over the summer while the University determined the center’s fate.

“No children or staff will be displaced from either program,” said the statement. “The University is committed to fund an expansion of the new, integrated Lab School to serve no fewer children — and perhaps more — than today.” 

“It’s stressful for nine months not knowing if you’re going to have a job,” Edgerton said.

The CDC, which currently serves 140 children from 3-months-old to pre-kindergarten, is popular for its dedicated staff and exceptional quality, parents say.

However, demand for child care exceeds capacity. The CDC’s waitlist can take nearly two years. There are approximately 200 children currently on the waiting list. Last year, the waitlist had over 500 children. 

“This is a superb center, but it doesn’t serve a lot of our families,” Hanson said.  “We have a lot of families that have other needs or look to other providers or have been on the waitlist so long the kids have aged out.”

The waiting time for the CDC is one indication of the larger shortage of daycare options for University parents.

“Not just on campus, but within the state and nationally, there’s a child care crisis,” said Amy Pittenger, co-chair of the the Provost’s Child Care Advisory Committee, which met over the summer to examine the issue. 

The 20-member committee found there are hundreds, if not thousands, of young children at the University — many in need of daycare, according to the committee’s report.  

The University’s four child care locations have the combined capacity to serve approximately 350 children. And child care in the Twin Cities is constantly among the most expensive, according to the committee’s findings. The committee recommended University options for an additional 450 to 600 children.

Hanson said the University plans to expand child care options, including adding sites on or near the East Bank, West Bank and St. Paul campuses, possibly by partnering with outside partners.

“We want more quality child care, to serve as many families as possible and economically as possible,” Hanson said. But barriers to expansion remain, including funding. 

The provost, as well as the committee, acknowledged child care remains an important factor in recruitment and retention at the University.

“The entire University benefits [from child care],” Pittenger said. “While it’s a working parent issue, I really think its a broad University issue.” 

For parents returning to school or continuing to work, adequate child care remains a challenge.

Katie Robertson, a graduate student and a mother of three children, said child care was a major factor for her in deciding to attend Carlson School of Management for graduate school. 

“Having the ability to walk over to the center then walk to class is so much more convenient than figuring out how to drive all over Minneapolis,” Robertson said.

Because the CDC’s waitlist was too long, Robertson pursued other child care services; she said she never heard back from the center. 

Mark Bell, a professor of political science, and his wife are expecting their first child in November. The couple, who started looking for daycare last spring, already have spots on the waiting lists of several daycares in the Twin Cities, including the CDC. 

“We’re in a much better position than a lot of people in that we were very aware that the child care situation in the Twin Cities is pretty constrained,” Bell said. “Our anticipation is that we’ll have options when the time comes, but that’s not guaranteed,” he said.” 

Like many other parents at the University, the CDC will continue to be one of the Bell’s top choices for daycare. 

“We’re very happy it remains an opportunity,” Bell said. “We were very excited to get on the waitlist initially with the hope of using it and now it seems like it’s going to be sticking around.”