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Carrington, N.D. - When Vivian Schulz would get her work schedule for the week, she ran through a list of baby sitters, trying to find someone to watch baby daughter Janice during each of her shifts.

Bree Triplett reads a story

Carrington, N.D. - When Vivian Schulz would get her work schedule for the week, she ran through a list of baby sitters, trying to find someone to watch baby daughter Janice during each of her shifts.

"Hopefully you find one, sometimes you don't," says Schulz, a waitress and cook. "One time I had to have my boss watch her."

Infant care can be hard to come by in this community, parents say. In-home child care providers are full, and there aren't many options to begin with.

It's a similar story in many rural areas, where child care is generally less available and accessible.

But some communities, including Carrington, have addressed the issue by creating more quality child care in innovative ways.


Collaboration is the key in all the cases - whether with government or business.

Child care emerged as a need in a planning survey by Carrington's economic development director. A follow-up child-care survey showed more than 60 percent of employees were interested in a center that could provide more hours and flexibility than a home-based provider.

Enter Bree Triplett.

Triplett moved to Carrington - her husband's hometown of about 2,500 people northwest of Jamestown - in 2004 when Nathan Triplett found a job working as a software engineer for Cannon Technologies. The couple had been living in Phoenix, where she pursued an early childhood education degree.

Triplett was interested in opening a child-care center. Nikki Mertz, the economic development director, wanted to help her.

The Job Development Authority approved a 15-year contract for deed on a bare 9,000-square-foot cinderblock building it owned, a former grocery store. It also offered Triplett job credits - $500 for each full-time employee she hired, up to eight.

Carrington's Kids opened in September. The interior walls put up by Triplett's friends and family are now decorated with kids' craft projects.

The center cares for 25 children, including Schulz's now 15-month-old daughter, and has eight full- and part-time employees, counting 26-year-old Triplett.


"We had people who were desperate, pounding on our doors to open, so I think it was definitely something that was needed," Triplett says.

Triplett says she doesn't know where she would have found care for her year-old son, Tristan, and the baby she's expecting if she hadn't opened the center.

Creating more child care is necessary to spur economic development in rural areas, experts say.

Each new job in child care creates an additional .31 jobs in other industries. Every dollar spent on child care creates an additional 53 cents in economic activity, said Richard Rathge, state demographer and executive director of North Dakota Kids Count, which collects data on the well-being of children.

And when parents know their children are well-cared for, their work ethic improves, Rathge said.

"The business community needs to recognize the benefits are tremendous to the business," he said.

In Harvey, 55 miles northwest of Carrington, the city's largest employer made child care a priority.

St. Aloisius Medical Center has offered on-site child care for its 300-plus employees since 2002.


About 80 children are enrolled at Pot of Gold Daycare. It is licensed to care for 45 at a time, with care available from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"New kids are always coming in, so that's a good sign," said director Jaime Dick. "We're always growing."

The center is a convenience for the employees, and aids in employee retention, says Lanette Mertz, day-care supervisor.

Because it's subsidized, the care is less expensive than other providers - $1.25 an hour for the first child, and $1 an hour for each additional child. Before- and after-school care is also $1 an hour.

Only employees of the medical center - which includes a hospital, nursing home and assisted living center - can use the and only while working or in training.

"It's really nice," said Melissa Vollmer, a registered nurse whose 3-year-old and 3-month-old children attend the center. "If there's ever a problem during the day, I can find someone to cover and come down and check on them. It's a real benefit."

Some state lawmakers would like to reward businesses like St. Aloisius.

For four sessions, the Legislature has considered a bill that would provide tax credits for employers that fund child care, whether an on-site center or paying a portion of child-care expenses.


It failed to pass each time. Legislators often cite concern about the bills' undetermined financial impact, and whether the state should subsidize child care.

Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo, one of the bill's sponsors, said the Legislature fails to recognize the significance of child care in the state.

There are a "number of legislators who still feel women shouldn't be working outside the home," Kelsh said. "That's just having the blinders on and not seeing the reality."

Barb Arnold-Tengesdal, vice president of public policy for the North Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children, often testifies on child-care issues.

"Currently we have attitudinal barriers in our state and in our Legislature," Arnold-Tengesdal said. "They believe child care is a family's problem; it's a family's issue.

"It is a community issue, it's an economic development issue, and it's a family issue," she said.

In some rural communities, federal dollars have been used to augment child care, said Allison Johnson, child development programs director at Mayville State University. It's a matter of "braiding" funding - intertwining federal and local dollars.

"We've collaborated our federally funded Head Start programs and our child care so we get a bigger bang for the buck," Johnson said.


For example, Head Start programming for 3- to 5-year-olds in Cooperstown is done in conjunction with We Care Childcare, a nonprofit center that operates under an umbrella community activities agency.

The Head Start program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Children who don't qualify financially take part in the educational Head Start programming. Children who do qualify can receive care before and after those hours at We Care Childcare.

Federal dollars pay for food, equipment, supplies, a staff member and training, Johnson said.

"When you blend the funding, you can share the resources and your dollar goes farther," Johnson said. "In rural communities, that makes a difference."

We Care Childcare opened in 2004. It served 56 families last year, said director Lisa Ringstad. It also offers care for infants and toddlers.

"It's allowed our employers to advertise for jobs and know they can be filled and have people come to the community," Ringstad said.

Head Start has also increased child care options in McVille, Mayville and Hillsboro.

"The more providers that are willing to step outside the box and collaborate with other entities, the more opportunities families are going to have to actually find quality care," Johnson said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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