For families with children, child care is one of the highest expenses a family can face in their monthly budget. While spaces for children are limited and spots are expensive, we are seeing child care deserts pop up all around our state. Add in a drastic drop in child care providers and the situation seems grim. As Iowa goes through a child care crisis, how is United Way of Story County (UWSC) working towards a solution to this problem? As a community convener, UWSC is bringing together multi-faceted partners to drive realistic resolutions.
So what does the crisis look like? We know that Iowa has lost 40% of its child care providers over the past five years. We also know that there is a shortfall of more than 350,000 child care slots across the state, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF). Unfortunately, child care deserts are abundant, especially in more rural areas.
This is a problem that effects more than just families. Businesses have employees who can’t get to work because they don’t have care for their small children. Individuals are facing tough decisions on leaving the workforce because of the lack of affordable, quality care. Shift workers are struggling to find any care at all.
In an effort to lift the burden of costly care for families, UWSC funds sliding fee scales at four child care centers in Story County; Ames Community Preschool Center (ACPC), ChildServe, Storytime Child Care Center in Maxwell, and University Community Childcare (UCC). Between these four sites alone, the waiting list as of November was over 342 children. So while we are helping families afford care, other child care issues are increasing.
Many of the barriers mentioned by these agencies have to do with finding and retaining staff to allow for more children to participate in their programs. However, with adding staff comes additional expenses. How can providers incur additional expenses without raising the cost of care? This is the cycle that many child care providers are experiencing. Investing in child care programs, encouraging child care professionals, and working with partners outside of the child care industry can help to alleviate this crisis.
As we continue to invest in quality child care programs throughout our county, making them more affordable to families while allowing the providers to invest in talented staff, we can create a communal path through the fire. Every dollar counts when you invest it into your community, whether it helps parents that are finishing their degrees or allows a mother to return to the workforce, investing in child care, and your community, has benefits for all.