FAIRMONT - Dawn Thimesch recently was called by a woman six weeks from giving birth and just starting to look into daycare options.
"She can't do that," said Thimesch, shaking her head. "Almost the minute you find out you are pregnant you need to start looking for care."
Thimesch should know. She is the president of the Martin County Licensed Child Care Association.
Although there are 42 licensed daycares in Fairmont and 23 more in the greater Martin County area, anyone looking for someone to care for their infant knows it can be difficult to find an opening.
"When you have an infant, there doesn't seem to be enough," Thimesch said.
Daycare is a necessity for many parents in the workforce, and finding a daycare provider with openings for a newborn is challenging.
Minnesota regulations allow for no more than two children younger than 1 per provider.
This is National Week of the Provider, culminating in National Child Care Provider Appreciation Day on Friday. The recognition week began in 1996, as a way to point out the dedication of workers in this field.
"It takes a special person to work in the child care field, and these individuals are often unrecognized," Thimesch said.
She has been a provider for 11 years, and loves it. She began her career after her youngest child left home.
"I am a caregiver," she said. "It is just who I am."
Every weekday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thimesch cares for seven full-time kids and three part-time kids, wearing the hat of a caretaker, teacher, chef, referee, helper and more, while juggling the unique needs of each child, ranging from allergies, to TV limits, to potty training.
She and other licensed providers are aware of the privilege families are bestowing on them when they drop off their kids in the morning.
"You are leaving your most precious gift with us," she said.
But sometimes providers feel the public has a skewed impression of their role.
"We are not the babysitter you get on Friday night," she said. "We are trained professionals; we have continuing education."
In-home childcare providers have training in areas one would expect, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and CPR, as well as more unexpected topics, like how to help a child process the death of a loved one and how to report suspected abuse.
Thimesch said one of the problems facing local providers has to do with government regulations and the smaller community in which they serve.
"Everyone's priority is the kids' safety," she said. "I think legislators have the right idea, but I don't think regulations are the answer. ... A lot of those regulations are geared toward the metro, but we are getting caught up in it."
Thimesch said parents looking for daycare choices in Martin County have a lot of options - each is its own business, with its own curriculum, fees and rules.
"Not every program is going to mesh," she said. "Interview many people; find out if it is a good fit."
Providers are currently working to understand the new Parent Aware rating system. The system, backed by the business community in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to give a star rating to daycares.
The ratings are the result of a voluntary thorough investigation of daycares, and indicate the number of proven quality indicators and measures a number of kindergarten readiness factors, such as physical health and well-being, teaching and relationships, assessment of child progress and teacher training and education.
Thimesch has both formal and informal learning times, incorporating creative play, and focusing on manners and social skills.
Other businesses employ a more school-like atmosphere.
Thimesch agrees with state statistics that indicate many children are simply not ready for kindergarten by the time they are 5 years old.
She sees daycares as a link in the early childhood cog that has recently been in the educational spotlight.
"Kindergarten readiness is falling to us," she said.
Martin County Licensed Child Care Association meets regularly to provide training and information to local daycares, and it is clear to Thimesch those who chose the profession love their jobs, some having worked in the field for 40 years or more.
Those looking for childcare can contact Human Services of Martin and Faribault Counties for a list of licensed providers in the area.
Just make sure to start the search early.