MOUNT PLEASANT — When Gladys Movall adopted her daughter in 2005 — and couldn’t find the child care she was looking for — she began her own in-home day care center in Mount Pleasant.
Movall interviewed more than 30 already-established child care providers, trying to find someone who could meet her needs. As a student at the University of Iowa and working 40 hours a week, she needed someone to watch her daughter in the evening.
“The search for child care is a hard, stressful one for a parent,” Movall said. “It’s a constant struggle because there’s more children than there are providers.”
Today, Movall’s day care center — Tender Care — serves 13 children. She is open 24/7, catering to parents who work in the evenings or overnight and to children with special needs. In one week, she turned away 12 families who called asking if she had an opening.
“Since I do special care, like, take children with handicaps and kids with severe disabilities, those calls kill me when I can’t help them,” Movall said. “There are people looking for care, and it hurts every time you have to tell somebody no.
“We have home providers. (Centers) are what we’re missing,” Movall continued, adding that she has begun plans to open her own center in the next few years. “I want to make sure all my ducks are in a line. By doing it the right way, it will be able to flourish. If you do it the wrong way, you’ll fall flat on your face, and it harms the community more.”
Movall is just one day care provider in the city of Mount Pleasant in Henry County in southeast Iowa. The county, which has a population of around 19,860 people, has five licensed child care centers and 13 child development homes with a total capacity of 490 children, according to Childcare Resource and Referral.
However, in Mount Pleasant alone there are 200 to 300 job openings, and lack of child care is making it difficult for businesses to hire and keep employees.
Dallas English, a branch manager at Advance Services Inc. in Mount Pleasant, two to three times a week gets a call from employees who can’t make it into work because of child care issues, or has someone turn down a job for the same reason.
“There’s a lot of times someone will say they can’t take (a third-shift position) because they don’t have child care or anyone who can watch their kids,” English said.
It’s an economic stumbling block not exclusive to southeast Iowa, but one seen in many other communities — particularly in rural areas — across the state.
“It’s not just a family issue, it’s a state issue because of the economic impact it has,” said Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Coralville-based Iowa Women’s Foundation, a statewide organization that aims to improve women and girls’ lives by eliminating economic barriers.
With statewide unemployment at 2.7 percent in June 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oliver Wiand said employees are more likely to find other jobs that better accommodate their needs — including ones out of state.
And without an adequate number of employees, businesses could begin to scale back.
“It sounds dire, but that’s the situation we’re facing,” she said. “We have to increase child care to improve our workforce.”
Although Kristi Ray, executive vice president of the Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance, wouldn’t call Mount Pleasant a child care desert, there is a need for more day care in the area, she said.
Ray said she hears from area human resources directors that their employees need day care. “They’re telling us child care still is an issue for people,” Ray said.
One private entity in Mount Pleasant is interested in opening a day care facility, but Ray is not yet at liberty to say who that is. The chamber is working with that person or persons to identify grants that could be used to assist them in opening a center.
About 10 miles east of Mount Pleasant, it took a partnership between the school district, the city and the child care center to start a facility in New London in 2005.
While the chamber refers many people looking for child care to the New London center, it’s difficult for some families to make the trip.
“The hard part for the people of Mount Pleasant is that we’re not like right there in their backyard,” said Dennis Julian said, director of the New London Community Child Care Center.
The center increased its capacity from 126 children to 206 two years ago because officials heard from employers in Mount Pleasant that 300 new jobs were coming to the area. Today, they have 150 children enrolled.
“We know the chamber and other groups are working hard to get new businesses to move to Mount Pleasant,” Julian said. “We know work is being done. It’s just about how that translates to people who need child care.”
The Women’s Foundation has pushed for initiatives in several towns and cities across Iowa, encouraging creative solutions that work for that particular community. No single solution fits every community, so Oliver Wiand said it’s important to gather local elected officials, business leaders and other stakeholders to the table.
And that move has spurred changes in towns, according to the foundation.
In Waterloo, the establishment of a child care coalition led to the opening of seven new centers in the region, including one that was opened recently inside a retirement community.
An employer in Centerville, Lee Container, bought a former elementary school and opened a center specifically for its employees’ children.
Julian said they have considered expanding the New London Community Child Care Center to Mount Pleasant, but they first need
to have maximum capacity at the New London facility.
Finding employees for the New London Community Child Care Center has been “almost detrimental,” Julian said. In southeast Iowa, where there already is an employee shortage, the center struggles to offer a competitive wage.
Rosalee Alaniz, who owned and operated a child care center called the Owl’s Nest with her husband, Sal, in Mount Pleasant until it went out of business in 2011, recalled how difficult it is to pay a child care provider a fair wage.
“You want to pay these (employees) a wage that is comparable to McDonald’s,” Alaniz said. “These people are doing really hard work, and you pay them minimum wage, and I felt horrible paying them minimum wage.”
Julian said he does not want — or think — that the New London Community Child Care Center takes away from in-home day care providers. There’s always a place for in-home, especially for parents who work overnight shifts.
Katherine Evans, who moved to Mount Pleasant with her husband in August 2017, was in a crunch to find child care for their then-three-year-old son.
Evans, who works at Iowa Wesleyan University, searched her options on Google before realizing every one of the day care centers she came across was closed.
Before moving to Mount Pleasant, Evans obtained child care recommendations from faculty members at the university — but when she called, there was no space available. Although it took a few weeks, Evans found an in-home child care provider whom her son now loves — and who will be able to care for her second son, born in December 2018, once she goes back to work after maternity leave.
“We were quickly trying to think of our options, but we did find care,” Evans said.
Gazette reporter Michaela Ramm contributed to this article.