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Iowa communities still struggling with child care shortage

Approximately 24% of Iowans live in a child care desert, according to the Iowa Women's Foundation.

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — If you are an Iowa parent, there is a good chance you've had trouble finding child care options for your little ones, and if so, you aren't the only one. 

According to the Iowa Women's Foundation, one in two kids in the state do not have quality, affordable child care and 24% of communities are in a child care desert. That means there is at least three children for every opening. 

The Iowa Women's Foundation estimates there are nearly 350,000 kids in the state who can't get access to child care. IWF worked with 18 communities to see what challenges women in the state were facing, and they found six major issues: employment, housing, transportation, education, training and child care.

Half of the communities listed child care as their top concern.

"Quite honestly, that surprised us," said Dawn Wiand, President and CEO of the Iowa Women's Foundation. "We thought it would have been employment or education and training. But when we went back and did the research, and really looked at what was happening with child care, we realized that we had a crisis in Iowa."

The economic impact is enormous: Iowa annually loses out on nearly $1 billion due to workplace interruptions caused by child care shortages. A lack of child care workers is one big reason why.

Miranda Niemi, director of Collins Aerospace Day Academy in Cedar Rapids, understands this: She's lost 17 workers in just eight weeks and isn't able to take on as many kids as a result.

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"They didn't want to leave. They said they enjoy working with the kids," Niemi said. "They loved being at the center. It was just pay. We just can't compete with the pay that other places that are able to pay their staff."

To help address the child care crisis, IWF started the Building Community Child Care Solutions initiative. Across 44 towns, the BCCCS is offering tool kits to communities to help build their child care infrastructure. That includes working with local businesses to expand their child care benefits, support before-and-after-school programs and building new child care centers. 

The approach is designed to tackle problems with child care at all angles.

"It is an economic issue. It is a business issue. It's a community issue," Wiand said. "And if we really want to see the economic recovery as a result of COVID we've got to address the childcare issue."

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