Facing yearslong waitlists, nonprofit and city leaders aim to address child care shortage

Nonprofit leaders and West Fargo city staff are looking for ways to address the lack of child care options and yearslong waitlists.

Five women sit at a table with a banner for the boys and girls clubs of the red river valley attached to the front.
Amy Jacobson, North Dakota Childcare Action Alliance; Lorrie Thoemke, YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties; Robin Nelson, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley CEO; Jolene Garty, South East Education Cooperative; and Kristin Knorr, North Dakota Afterschool Network, address the current child care crisis during a press conference at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — As the child care crisis reaches a fever pitch, a group of advocates gathered for a press conference Friday, Feb. 3, to highlight what they believe is causing the lack of child care and suggest solutions that agencies and legislators can implement.

At the same time, West Fargo City Commissioner Mandy George and Economic Development Director Casey Sanders-Berglund are preparing to present a plan Monday about how the city can help solve the problem.

Hundreds of families are desperately seeking child care. The amount of providers has not kept pace with demand, and many parents have to make a choice between their jobs and taking care of their children, the nonprofit leaders said at the press conference.

Lorrie Thoemke, vice president of learning centers at YMCA of Cass & Clay Counties, said Friday that there are 121 infants on the wait list for day care openings. By the time those children would be able to join a day care, they will be 4 years old, she said.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley CEO Robin Nelson called the conference along with Thoemke, North Dakota Childcare Action Alliance Executive Director Amy Jacobson, South East Education Cooperative Director of Teaching and Learning Services Jolene Garty and North Dakota Afterschool Network Lead Kristin Knorr.


In 2022, Jacobson said, "there was not a month that went by that we did not talk about the shortage of child care."

Not only does the shortage force some parents to leave the workforce, Knorr said, but it also causes others to compromise on their choice of child care.

"Some people are making the choice of having to send their kids somewhere they don't feel comfortable," she said.

The women presented a number of solutions that legislators and agencies could assist with, such as increasing wages and benefits for child care workers. The average pay for a child care worker in North Dakota is $11.19 per hour, according to a report by the North Dakota Afterschool Network.

Another statewide solution would be to offer incentives that promote public-private partnerships for child care and to help streamline North Dakota's fingerprinting process.

Child care workers must pass a background check and have fingerprints on file. However, those checks take six to 12 weeks to process in North Dakota.

In September, Gov. Doug Burgum proposed similar changes to address the child care shortage. The state Legislature is considering Senate Bill 2301, which would create a child care stabilization program to boost pay to child care providers.

Nelson pointed out that not only is child care regulated at the state level, but there are also federal regulations that can create a barrier. For instance, the Boys & Girls Club cannot invite a fireman into the building to give a presentation without that fireman passing the federal background requirement.


"Even though we are supervising the kids, we are sitting right there, we can't have them in," Garty said. "It's just too difficult. I get the rule, but does it really make sense? Is it really what we need to do?"

In West Fargo, George and Sanders-Berglund met with staff and commissioners in late 2022 to discuss options for helping grow child care providers' availability. After sending a citywide survey via residents' water bills, more than 250 people responded, alerting officials to the issues surrounding the lack of child care, most of which are similar to the challenges seen at the metro, state and national levels.

One of the biggest challenges for child care providers is finding the funds to pay for facility upgrades, staff training and licenses, Sanders-Berglund said.

To help with that, George and Sanders-Berglund will propose a Child Care Workforce Grant, which will be similar to the city's enterprise grant that is offered to new businesses.

The child care grant would be open to existing and new child care facilities, which would have to meet eligibility requirements to apply for the grant. The grant could then be used for upgrades or improvements. However, the grant would not be available for general operating costs or consumables.

"We're not trying to supplement your child care business, we're trying to say we'll have to help you upgrade your security systems, fix a fence, fix playground equipment, all the things you don't normally think of," Sanders-Berglund said.

The West Fargo proposal will be brought before for the full City Commission at its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m, Monday, Feb. 6, at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. S.

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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