‘A child care desert’

Child Care Collaborative meetings address dire need for quality, affordable child care in Hamilton County

Finding quality, affordable child care can be one of the greatest concerns for working parents. All across the nation, that issue is impacting families. Iowa and Hamilton County are no different.

On Tuesday, Enhance Hamilton County Foundation brought together business and community leaders and child care providers for two sessions of a Child Care Collaborative held at the Briggs Woods Conference Center.

The Enhance Hamilton County Foundation identified childcare as an area of concern in 2016. Darcy Swon, development director for Enhance Hamilton County Foundation, said the foundation partnered with Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation to begin the process of finding solutions.

“We appreciate Dawn’s guidance in helping us to create a forum that is going to result in an action plan aimed at addressing and finding solutions for childcare throughout Hamilton County,” Swon said.

“The Iowa Women’s Foundation believes that Iowa is in a child care crisis. This crisis is no longer a family issue. It’s a workforce issue, a business issue and a community issue. We all need to come together to address it or it will continue to get worse,” Wiand said.

But more than just conversations, Wiand said the IWF wants to see action.

She said the IWF put together a toolkit of possible solutions that community leaders, child care providers and others can consider and use as they pursue a path forward. Wiand said the hope is by bringing leaders together, they can identify how to increase the availability of quality, affordable child care within the communities.

Wiand has presented the toolkit to leaders and providers in 25 communities around the state with several more on her calendar.

“Our goal is to work with communities, to be that connector, the convenor and the voice.

If one community is looking at an option that another community is already working on, we hope they will share successes, struggles, the tools. That way we don’t have to recreate the wheel because our resources are so limited,” according to Wiand.

During the Child Care Collaborative Tuesday, Wiand worked with community leaders and business owners in the morning and the evening session was dedicated to child care providers.

Wiand shared some alarming statistics with participants:

• There has been a 42 percent loss in the number of providers over the past 5 years

• 75 percent of Iowa families with children under 6, have all available parents working outside of the home

• Iowa has a shortage of 361,000 child care slots

• Hamilton County has a shortage of about 1,600 child care slots — three times as many children as available child care slots – qualifying Hamilton County as a child care desert

Finding those additional child care spots will take multiple solutions, according to Wiand. The community and business leaders began their conversations in the morning session by identifying three possible solutions — building and expanding, businesses and child care, and child care entrepreneurs; working with community colleges to possible develop child care certifications or programs, and expanding and developing before and after school programs.

The group then looked at resources available and other resources that might be needed to implement the plan, and who else should be at the table. The participants also looked at what the next steps would be to follow through.

“When we left Tuesday, there were three work groups. Each had a team leader, they had next steps and set goals to work towards,” she said.

The providers learned about what the collaborative hoped to accomplish and how the collaborative could support them over the next several years to keep them in the industry and potentially grow their businesses.

“Maybe some of them will want to move on to a center or expand their businesses,” she said.

What happens next? It’s not over, Wiand explained.

“We really try hard to keep everyone connected,” she said. Once a month she sends out a report. The local contacts provide her updates on progress, which Wiand then shares with participants.

“Quarterly, we do a phone call so we invite all of the communities to come together for that,” she said.

Additionally, a summit is planned for November in Des Moines and communities working on child care issues will be invited to attend.

“We’ll share success stories, struggles, tools — we’ll kind work together to energize the work and move forward,” she said,

“It’s our hope that this is just the beginning and we’re going to increase the availability of quality, affordable child care.”

The Iowa Women’s Foundation is involved in the child care discussions in hopes of seeing more women achieve economic self-sufficiency.

“We believe that if women can go to work, they can be economically self-sufficient,” she said. “One of the barriers to achieving that goal is the lack of quality affordable child care.”