Plain Talk: 'We're drowning out here' says child care provider frustrated by an inept state bureaucracy

Robin Nelson, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley, says on this episode of Plain Talk that bureaucratic delays can make it take as long as six weeks to on-board a new employee.

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

MINOT, N.D. — You've heard just about every elected official in the state talk about it. Access to child care, and as importantly, access to child care that's affordable, is a real problem in North Dakota. So much so that it's contributing mightily, to our critical workforce shortages.

People who can't find a place to send their kids during the day, or who can't afford it, can't go to work.

But Robin Nelson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Red River Valley, which provides child care services to some 700 families, says the state is making it difficult for them to operate.

"We're drowning out here," she said on this episode of Plain Talk.

She says that an online licensing portal to make the hiring process for child care workers easier has, in fact, made things more difficult because the system "continues to crash" when they try to upload documents. "We are receiving late fees because we're missing deadlines," Nelson says.


Background checks for those same workers are also a problem. Nelson says there are "major backlogs," particularly in the area of fingerprinting. She says it can take up to three weeks for a prospective hire to get an appointment to have their fingerprints taken, and even once they're sent in, Nelson says state workers have told her that it might take 11 business days for them to even begin to process them.

All told, Nelson says it can take as long as 4 to 6 weeks to get a child care worker licensed and ready to work, which is an eternity, all the more so when you consider we're talking about workers taking jobs at what are, quite frankly, entry-level wages. How many of them can afford to wait for a month and a half before they can begin working and collecting a paycheck? Especially when there are so many other job opportunities available?

Also on this episode, my co-host Ben Hanson and I discuss my story about the familial connections between a freshman state lawmaker and a racist church in Missouri, as well as some bills that are advancing to hopefully address North Dakota's workforce shortages.

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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