Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 22, 2017

Child care discussed at community meeting

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Nov 13, 2017
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN Forty-seven people attended Tuesday’s meeting representing more than 30 organizations. The meeting focused on how child care availability and affordability affect employers. Future meetings will focus on how child care availability affects parents.

A few community groups hosted a meeting Tuesday in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center to discuss the future of child care in Jefferson County.

Fairfield Economic Development Association spearheaded the gathering, attended by 47 people from more than 30 organizations.

FEDA executive director Joshua Laraby said the focus of the meeting was investigating child care from an employer’s point of view. He said future meetings on the subject will focus on the issue from a parent’s perspective.

Laraby said that the presence or absence of child care can have a cascading effect on a county’s economy. If parents can’t find a place to drop their children during the day, that discourages them from working in the area. That’s why ensuring plenty of child care slots is important in retaining and attracting workers.

A report from Woods and Poole Economics indicated there were 924 children below the age of 5, and 153 less than 1 year old, in Jefferson County at the end of 2016. Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral’s July 2017 report showed 610 available child care spaces.

“In addition, there are hundreds of employees commuting daily into Jefferson County to work, but live outside the county, giving further indication of immediate growth protential,” according to a FEDA press release.

 

Guest speaker

Elizabeth Stanek, executive director for Linking Families and Communities, spoke about how the city of Fort Dodge tackled its child care problem. Town leaders noticed their day care options shrink from 2011 to 2015. Stanek’s organization surveyed employers, invited businesses to a round-table discussion and performed a feasibility study, all to find out what was causing the decline and how to reverse it.

The organization heard back from 710 employees about what they look for in a day care center and what hours are most useful to them. The survey found that infant care and after-school care were the two areas where demand was outstripping supply. However, building a new child care center or expanding an existing one would be hard since the business owners could not recoup the high cost of such construction.

Through a collaborative effort involving several organizations and several news articles in the local newspaper to bring attention to the issue, a grant was secured to expand an existing day care center by adding 142 spots.

Stanek said Jefferson County could learn from that example as its leaders contemplate how to provide quality and affordable child care.

 

Attendee feedback

Laraby said the attendees at Tuesday’s meeting offered helpful suggestions. Through a feedback survey conducted at the end of the meeting, several attendees mentioned that the public needs specific information about the scale of the child care shortage. They also noted that expanding child care would require collaboration between private and public entities.

A common theme from the feedback comments was the need for more infant care, sick child care and after-school care.

Attendees commented on the importance of including child care providers in the discussion. Laraby said day care centers in the area were contacted, and some of them sent representatives to the meeting.

“Almost everyone in attendance said they are interested in participating in future dialogs on the subject,” Laraby said.

About half of the attendees said they’d be willing to serve on a child care steering committee, and about one quarter said they’d contribute to funding a feasibility study on child care.

FEDA received assistance in organizing the meeting from Jefferson County supervisor Dee Sandquist, Pathfinders Resource Conservation & Development, Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Fairfield schools superintendent Laurie Noll, Iowa Rep. Phil Miller and Early Childhood Iowa.

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