Becky Beckner was shocked to find Mt. Pleasant had no child care center when she moved to town to teach at Iowa Wesleyan University, and with a granddaughter in tow, she scrambled to find a center or in-home provider.
Beckner’s “entire career” has been about child care, she said. She owned a child care center for 10 years before moving to Mt. Pleasant. She used to be on the board for Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) and is on the planning committee for the Early Childhood Summit.
At the 2019 Southeast Iowa Early Childhood Summit at Iowa Wesleyan University, Beckner asked, “Who’s ready to be on the (child care center) steering committee for Henry County?”
“I think we might be closer than we’ve ever been to one or two child care centers here in town,” Beckner said at the Early Childhood Summit lunch and learn on Friday, April 12. The lunch and learn brought together community members and representatives from early child care resources to discuss the importance of child care in a community and how employers, city leaders and economic development boards can get involved to support child care initiatives in the region.
Tasha Beghtol, director of ECI for Des Moines, Henry, Louisa and Washington counties, said that community partnerships are key to child care.
“Child care is not a parent issue, it’s a community issue,” Beghtol said. “As communities are thinking about child care, and we happen to be sitting in a town that I think really needs to be thinking about child care, you have the supports out there. I wanted people to know resources exist.”
Beghtol said while there may be hesitation from the community wondering if a child care center would put current providers out of business, the demand is much higher than the supply.
“When you do the numbers and look at actual slots verses the number of kids, there’s no question,” Beghtol said.
Brook Rosenberg, state board member for ECI, said that Iowa is the highest state in the country with 76 percent of both parents in a household working.
In 2015, Iowa ranked 34th in the U.S. in terms of available child care slots per population, and Iowa has lost 40 percent of its child care providers in the past five years.
“You have to be vocal. Talk to your representatives, legislators and the governor because we’re finally getting them to see the issues on a broader scale, especially in Iowa,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg said there was a co-op in Iowa losing four to five employees a month because of lack of child care, and it was costing them up to $6,000 to train new employees. They started a child care partnership with the community and they now have a waiting list of employees, Rosenberg said.
“That spills over. If you have people coming into the community, you have a bigger tax base and more revenues,” Rosenberg said.
Roseberg said communities need to think outside of the box in terms of child care. In Des Moines, a day care center and retirement center were combined and has been successful, he said. There is daily interaction between the residents at the retirement center and kids in day care.
“That’s very helpful for both generations,” Rosenberg said.
Gladys Movall, an in-home child care provider in Mt. Pleasant, is researching and planning to open a center. Movall said for a community in need of a child care center, the summit is a starting point.
“It’s getting people to understand (the need for child care) and start communicating,” Movall said.
Movall said with summer coming up, she will begin getting “call after call” of parents desperately looking for child care. She will most likely have to turn them away. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
Josh Laraby, executive director for the Fairfield Economic Development Association, and Tammy Wetjen-Kestersen, ECI director for Iowa, Jefferson and Keokuk counties, began the lunch and learn by introducing how Jefferson County is working toward opening a child care center.
Child care is “literally like sewer and water system in a community. It’s that important,” Laraby said.
Laraby said as the executive director of the Fairfield Economic Development Association, he occasionally gets calls from businesses saying they need an additional 50 employees, otherwise they will have to relocate to a more metropolitan area. But without child care options, it’s difficult to attract those employees.
“I never thought an economic developer would lead the child care initiative in a community,” Laraby said. “The economy in Jefferson County right now is strong. Our employers are willing or currently expanding and creating new positions Unemployment is at an extreme low in Iowa, particularly in Jefferson County. We need to be as competitive as possible for attracting and retaining workforce.
“The connection is very clear to me now why we are involved in this,” Laraby continued. “This is a workforce issue. This is a business issue and it’s an infrastructure opportunity for us.”
A Child Care Steering Committee was formed in November 2017 when over 50 business and community leaders met to discuss child care challenges facing the Fairfield community.
The committee launched a child care marketing analysis study. The results of the study showed that there were only 533 child care spaces available as of May 2018 in Jefferson County. This counts spaces in licensed child care centers, registered child development homes and child care homes.
With the knowledge that child care was indeed a need for the county, the Fairfield Economic Development Association, Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development, ECI and the Fairfield Community School District applied for and was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Jefferson County Foundation Grant.
Additionally, the Maharishi Day School and Pekin Child Care Center announced in August 2018 that they were expanding their child care slots. Maharishi added 18 slots for three to six year olds and Pekin added 12 infant slots.
Today, Fairfield is looking for a location for a child care center that would add 100 to 200 new child care spaces to the community.
Kate Granzow, with the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children, said the summit is a chance for everyone who works in early childhood and community members to build relationships with each other.
“It’s a whole community issue between all of us, so it’s great to meet the other players and see how everyone can work together,” Granzow said.
Tessa Amato with Child care Resource and Referral, Ginger Knisley, director of ECI for Lee and Van Buren counties and Chad Recking with DHS were other early childhood representatives at the lunch and learn.