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'I'm scared': Many in limbo as Fargo child care centers serving low-income families close

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Lydia Carlisle of Fargo walks out of Nokomis Child Care Center with her children Teagan, 4, and Spencer, 21 months, on Friday, April 21, 2017. David Samson / The Forum2 / 3
Mirjana Rakasovic of West Fargo picks up her two-year-old daughter Milla at Nokomis Child Care Center in south Fargo on Friday, April 21, 2017. David Samson / The Forum3 / 3

FARGO - For Mirjana Rakasovic, the announcement Friday, April 21, that Fargo’s two Nokomis Child Care Centers will be closing this summer was devastating.

Picking up her 2-year-old daughter Milla at the center at 618 23rd St. S., the West Fargo woman trembled as she fought back tears.

“It’s really hard when you’re a single parent. I have (9-month-old) twins and a 2-year-old,” Rakasovic said.

“I was trying to move ahead. I was going to go to school. Now, I’m scared. I don’t know how” I will be able to do that and find affordable child care, she said.

The Fargo-based Village Family Service Center, which operates the Nokomis centers on 23rd Street South and at 1620 16th Ave. S., announced Friday the centers will close June 30. The closure will affect 140 children and 38 full-time workers, the Village said in a statement. Most of the families with children at the centers qualified for reduced rates because of their low income.

Staff, families and supporters were notified Thursday, and full-time workers will get severance pay and career transition support, The Village said in its statement. Families will also get help finding new child care providers.

Increased competition for child care in the metro area and The Village’s changing priorities were cited as major factors in the decision to close the centers, which offer sliding-scale rates to low-income parents and take children with behavioral, mental health and medical needs.

But the cost of the program was also a big issue.

In an interview, Doug Vang, CEO and president of The Village, said funding shortfalls that dogged Nokomis for years had continued to widen.

Vang said total expenses for the Nokomis centers have grown to $1.7 million, while fundraising has remained at $600,000 per year, leaving a gap of about $900,000 for The Village to fill through its ability to obtain grants and fundraise.

“It came to us with budget challenges or shortfalls. We’ve applied our resources, including our fundraising, to get to this point. The real thing that’s different today, even compared to two years, ago, is that there is a very large number of child care centers that have opened in Fargo-Moorhead,” Vang said.

The Village has run the Nokomis program since 2006, said Sherri Richards, director of marketing and communications for The Village.

Richards said the centers have a capacity of 154 children. Of the 140 children now enrolled, about 70 percent receive some sort of financial assistance, she said.

Lydia Carlisle said the closing won’t affect her 4-year-old daughter, Teagan, who will go to kindergarten this fall. But finding a spot to care for her 21-month-old son, Spencer, will be tough.

“Him? I have no idea. It’s hard finding openings in his age group,” Carlisle said. “He’s been here since he was born, so it will be hard on him.”

The Village, a nonprofit organization, said in its statement Friday that community needs have changed, and the move will allow it to focus on providing behavioral health services across North Dakota and Minnesota.

“There is a growing need for these services in many communities, a trend we expect will continue. We remain committed to improving the quality of life of children through outpatient counseling, intensive in-home family services, truancy intervention, and mentoring. In 2016, we directly served 4,893 children through these and other programs,” The Village said in its statement.

"This was not an easy decision for the Village,” said Rick Henderson, chairman of The Village’s Board of Directors. “We are mindful of the impact this decision will have on the families we serve and our dedicated staff.”

The decision came after an in-depth analysis of Nokomis’ operations over the last year and a half. Increasing child care capacity in Fargo, which made it more difficult to fill open slots. According to Child Care Aware statistics, Cass County saw an increase of 967 licensed child care spots from July 2015 through June 2016. That doesn’t include seven new centers that have opened in Cass County since July.

The centers also face a shortage of workers, costly building problems and fewer funding sources, The Village said in its statement.

The Village traces its roots to 1891 with the founding to the North Dakota Children’s Home. When the orphanage closed in the late 1960s, “we changed our services to respond to the community’s needs. We find ourselves in that position again,” Vang said.

Vang acknowledged that child care for families facing special needs and financial difficulties remains a growing issue.

He said The Village will work with Child Care Aware and other non-profit child care centers to find spots for children, as well as share data and paperwork for families needing financial assistance if those families request it.

“We want to actively help place those children,” Vang said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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