The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) is in the process of splitting up to create an entirely separate Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), as well as a department for direct care and treatment, yet some early childhood learning centers feel left behind and that there’s been a lack of transparency during the process.
State of Reform spoke with Erin Bailey, assistant commissioner at the Office of Management and Budget, who is also overseeing the department’s transition, to discuss the need for the new department and what it will entail.
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“There’s not a power base, necessarily, externally for children and for low-income families, and the government has a role in creating and leading from that place,” Bailey said. “It’s our responsibility to create a structure where [we] front and center children, youth, and families, outside of any particular sector, as the primary partner—the primary audience.”
Bailey explained how the creation of the new department stemmed from advocacy around the need for a child-centered government that works with partners to create easy access for kids and families, ultimately leading to more equitable outcomes.
Gov. Tim Waltz included the creation of DCYF in his budget as part of the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill this year, which funds a two-year planning process for getting the department up and running.
The implementation office began receiving funds in July to create temporary jobs to assist with the transition. The legislation also directs the governor to appoint a commissioner for the department by July 1st, 2024. From then until July 1st, 2025, services will be moved to the new DCYF. Bailey said the team is focusing heavily on developing a preliminary planning timeline to understand what can be done during that time frame.
“The pillars of what’s moving from originating agencies to the new agencies are programs and services that are supporting our lowest-income children and families, and so if you think of that at the very base level, it’s an elevation of much of those services. It’s our childcare services division—which oversees our CCSBG [Child Care Stabilization Base Grant] grant, which funds childcare assistance and the early learning services program, the scholarship program for low-income children from our Education Department. It’s our TANF Program, our SNAP program.”
She explained that the department will fall into four primary pillars, including consolidation around early childhood programs like early learning, childcare, and early education. It will also include economic opportunity programs, like TANF and SNAP, and a Youth Justice Office—which is currently housed under the Office of Public Safety. Child support, child safety, and family-focused programs will also be another category.
“There’s a tremendous desire for more information,” Bailey said.
Bailey said this transition process would not be possible without the advocacy efforts led by ISAIAH, a multi-racial, statewide coalition of faith communities fighting for racial and economic justice in Minnesota. ISAIAH connected State of Reform with Shawntel Gruba, executive director of Iron Range Tykes Learning Center, to speak about the transition.
The Iron Range Tykes Learning Center promotes learning while having fun through a combination of hands-on experiences, group activities, and individual play.
“They haven’t really shared much details on what they’re going to be changing for us,” Gruba said. “I’m hoping there’s going to be rules and improvements, but so far, they haven’t really said what they’re going to be.”
Gruba said it seems like the state will be combining all children, youth, and families-related content and resources, but that information should be more easily accessed and shared.
“It’s a mess, to be blunt,” Gruba said. “Basically, whatever resources we desire, we need to go find and try to apply for and get. There’s no help from DHS at all.”
One primary concern of Gruba’s pertains to the rules of early childhood learning centers. She said not having as many mandated rules or trainings would make the job more desirable for those seeking to enter the field, citing the rules and mandates as a reason why individuals do not wish to go into the industry, in addition to the average early childhood learning employee earning $15 per hour.
“It’s impossible to find people that are qualified, and then want to work for poverty-level wages.”
She explained how childcare providers in the area support each other, and that local businesses, like United Way, assist early childcare providers with obtaining grant monies and scholarships. At the same time, she does not feel valued as an early childcare educator. Many child care providers are also racial/ethnic minorities.
Gruba added that DHS requires the facility to provide childcare and early education, but they aren’t viewed as early educators. She said early childcare providers are the workforce behind the workforce of every community.
With challenges like low reimbursement rates being longstanding concerns, the lack of information and transparency from DHS about the new DCYF adds to child care providers’ plates. Gruba acknowledged how state leaders like Waltz have recognized the importance of early education, but there’s more to be done.
“People want to know more, and we don’t necessarily have the structure built up yet to be able to communicate that, so that’s a challenge that I would say is just how you both forge ahead in the nitty gritty in the things that need to be done in such a complex situation,” Bailey said.
To combat the issue of lack of funding and overworked providers, Gruba believes in access to free and universal childcare so that parents are able to afford it, thus decreasing the need for DHS—or soon to be DCYF—services, and so that early childcare workers can be properly compensated.
“I hope the nation and the state really start to fix things quickly, because I see they’re realizing more—which is great—but if they don’t take quick action, it’s going to be too late and there won’t be many of us left to save. The economy is just going to fail, because we are the workforce behind the workforce,” Gruba said.