IOWA CITY

Child care providers, shortages to be discussed during two Iowa City meetings this month

Melanie Harrison (center), teacher, opens a bag of flower seeds as Amelia Herndon (left), 4, and David Dragisic (right), 3, jump with excitement as they plant flowers in a preschool class at Apple Tree Children’s Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Mar. 15, 2018. (Gazette photo)
Melanie Harrison (center), teacher, opens a bag of flower seeds as Amelia Herndon (left), 4, and David Dragisic (right), 3, jump with excitement as they plant flowers in a preschool class at Apple Tree Children’s Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Mar. 15, 2018. (Gazette photo)

IOWA CITY — Two meetings in Iowa City this month will look at the issues facing child care providers and bring together community leaders for potential solutions to a child care shortage affecting the workforce.

A Child Care Providers Discussion is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City. A Child Care Solutions Summit is scheduled for 8 to 10 a.m. Sept. 20, also at MERGE. The events are sponsored by the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, Iowa City Area Development, Johnson County Social Services and the Coralville-based Iowa Women’s Foundation.

Dawn Oliver Wiand, IWF executive director, said its research has shown 70 percent of Iowa’s female-led households struggle economically, and she set out to discover why. Focusing on 18 communities across the state — including Iowa City and Cedar Rapids — the IWF identified six barriers to women achieving economic self-sufficiency: education and training, child care, housing, transportation, employment and mentoring.

In 2016, the IWF went back to those 18 communities and asked them to identify which of the six barriers would they most like to address. More than half answered child care, she said.

“The Iowa Women’s Foundation needed to focus on that area,” Oliver Wiand said Monday. “We took a deeper dive and looked at child care data.”

What the IWF found was a 361,677 shortfall of child care spaces for children up to age 12 across the state. Iowa has lost 42 percent of its child care businesses in the last five years, Oliver Wiand said.

In Johnson County, there are 22,168 children 12 and younger, but only 9,267 spaces available. That does not include non-registered or non-licensed child care providers the IWF was unable to identify.

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Furthermore, there are job openings in Iowa, but not enough people to fill them, Oliver Wiand said. The IWF thinks the two issues are linked, and creating more child care spaces would allow more women to enter the workforce.

“We have to work on both of them,” she said.

For the child care provider session, providers are asked about the resources they need to remain in business. Oliver Wiand said potential solutions include higher wages, better benefits and training.

“They’re the ones that are closest to this problem,” said Jennifer Banta, vice president for advocacy and external affairs with the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. “What ideas do they have? I’m excited to talk to them. I have a feeling they’re going to have a lot of great nuggets of information for us.”

For the solutions summit, community leaders are asked to discuss six possible solutions: building and expanding child care centers, child care entrepreneurs, businesses and child care, community colleges and child care, before- and after-school programs and child care for second- and third-shift workers. The community leaders are to identify which solutions might be viable, which resources do and don’t exist, and what the next steps should be.

Solution-specific leaders are identified and charged with keeping the conversation going in the community after the meeting is over, with the goal of implementing changes in the future.

“This has to be about action,” Oliver Wiand said. “We cannot continue to just have conversations, or we’re not going to get anywhere and it’s going to get worse.”

Banta said this issue already is affecting workers and employers in Johnson County. For example, Banta said, a local business lost an employee because she couldn’t arrange for child care.

“We need to make sure our workforce has what they need in order to live in Johnson County, thrive and be successful here,” Banta said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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