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Home / HER take on finding affordable child care
These days, affordable child care is especially hard for parents to find. For child care providers, finding and retaining staff is proving equally difficult.
These challenges were the focus of The Gazette’s HER Speak Up! event on Nov. 4 at Eastbank Venue and Lounge. The event series is designed to provide a space for people to come together, discuss work and everyday challenges and celebrate people who are making a positive impact in their communities.
Panelists Dawn Oliver Wiand, president and CEO of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, and Jennifer Banta, vice president of community engagement and advocacy of the Iowa City Area Business Partnership, discussed the difficulty of finding adequate child care and the challenges that providers are facing.
Even before the pandemic, the scarcity of quality, affordable child care was a huge issue in Iowa, Wiand said, noting that over one-third of child care providers in the state have left the profession over the past five years. “There’s a shortfall of more than 350,000 child care slots across the state,” she said.
Now, with the rising cost of supplies and difficulty hiring staff, child care providers are faced with even more challenges – and so are the parents who rely on them. According to Banta, low wages in the industry are part of the problem. “I recently saw a sign at a department store advertising $19 an hour plus benefits. If that’s an option, why would you work in child care for $12 an hour?” she asked.
But the solution isn’t as simple as raising wages. The problem with that, according to Banta, is that all of the increased cost would be passed on to parents, affecting many who already struggle to afford child care. (According to Banta, the most expensive place for child care in Iowa is Johnson County, where parents pay twice the national average.) Banta said a better solution would be for the government to subsidize wages for child care workers. “Parents can no longer bear 100 percent of the weight,” she said.
Wiand and Banta served on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Child Care Task Force, which released its report earlier this year. Based on that report, Reynolds announced on Nov. 3 that Iowa will make available $10 million in grants for expanding current child care facilities or building new ones and distribute $200 million in federal grants to child care facilities that suffered economically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reynolds also said the state will implement a child care management system, something both Banta and Wiand agree is needed. The goal of the system is to reduce the burden of administrative tasks for child care providers. “Each provider has to provide their own human resources and keep up with regulations, and a shared services model will really help with things like that,” Banta said.
And even though progress has been made at the state level this week, Banta said more could be done. She recommends “professionalizing the profession” through improved training, which could help improve the quality of available child care. She suggested that wages could be supplemented based on a person’s length of time in the industry and level of training. “Eighty-five percent of a person’s cognitive development happens before age three. People should be rewarded for taking care of our precious assets,” she said.
Finding ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses will remain a challenge for providers, and Wiand said businesses should be part of the solution. For example, she suggested that employers with on-site child care could contract with other providers in case of illnesses.
Banta, on the other hand, said it’s preferable to keep businesses at arm’s length when it comes to child care and said a flex spending plan—much like a health care flex spending plan—might be a better way for businesses to get involved. But the panelists and the attendees who shared their thoughts all agreed that increasing access to quality, affordable child care should be a top priority for lawmakers. “We all agree on the ‘what,’ we just have to figure out the ‘how,’” Wiand said.
- “Child care is an invisible part of the economy.” – Ellen Galinsky
- “To achieve our goals of educating bold and ambitious children, we must invest in enriching, quality early child care and learning.” – Stacey Abrams
- “Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
- What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children′s Lives by Rae Pica
- Purposeful Play: A Teacher's Guide to Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Day by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, Cheryl Tyler
- All About Child Care and Early Education: A Comprehensive Resource for Child Care Professionals by Marilyn Segal, Betty Bardige, M. Kori Bardige, Lorraine Breffni and Mary Jean Woika