Six months before her daughter, Eleanor, was born, Kristen Frank started calling Rochester day care providers looking for extra spots.
Her situation was tricky. A high school teacher, Frank had decided to work half days to spend more time with her infant daughter. But over and over again, she was told by providers they would need her to pay for full-time care even if she only used it part time. That would have eaten up her entire paycheck.
Ultimately, Frank cobbled together a solution. She coordinated with a co-worker and found a provider with openings twice a week who would accept part-time pay. The rest of the week she relies on family members to help out.
"I know lots of people struggle. You pretty much have to look as soon as you find out you are pregnant. That's when people say, 'Immediately start locking down care,'" she said.
Frank's situation is not unique. Most counties in Greater Minnesota are faced with a shortage of licensed child care providers. It's a situation Marnie Werner has dubbed a "quiet crisis."
"Families were dealing with this quietly, but it wasn't being brought up to a larger community level even though it's the communities that are really starting to be impacted by it," said Werner, interim executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development.
Last year, she began researching the child care shortage. She found the number of in-home family child care providers in the state had plummeted. Between 2006 to 2016, 41,000 licensed family child care slots had disappeared. While more child care centers are opening in the state, they are not making up for the loss of family providers in Greater Minnesota.
Olmsted County is not immune from those trends. Since 2012, the number of family child care providers in the county has dropped from more than 500 to less than 365 and is continuing to fall, according to Jon Losness, executive director of Families First of Minnesota. A study earlier this year found a shortage of 1,855 child care slots in the county.
This is not just a problem for families. Losness said the child care shortage is beginning to affect businesses, with employers hearing from employees struggling to find care. This all comes as Rochester is poised to add tens of thousands of new jobs during the next two decades as part of the Destination Medical Center initiative.
"We need to help parents. I think the sooner we all figure that out, the better we'll all be," Losness said.
Families First recently was awarded nearly $99,000 from the Otto Bremer Trust to help grow child care capacity in Olmsted County.
The Post Bulletin interviewed more than a dozen parents, child care providers and early childhood experts about the child care shortage. While those interviewed largely agree on what is causing the crisis, there are disagreements on how to solve it. One thing is clear: There are no simple fixes.
"It's not (a situation) where you can wave a single magic wand and solve the problem," Losness said. "It's going to take a lot of folks coming together."