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Child Care — More Than a Family Issue

Child Care Challenges

January 23, 2023

Did you know that Iowa has lost 33% of its child care providers over the past five years? Or that almost 25% of Iowans live in a child care desert with a shortage of licensed or registered child care options? Or that child care is the most expensive piece of a family budget — exceeding the cost of housing?*

Finding quality, affordable child care is no longer a private issue for families to solve on their own. It is an over-arching problem that prevents parents, mostly women, from entering or remaining in the workforce. Employers who have unfilled jobs or difficulties retaining good employees are undoubtedly feeling the effects of a lack of child care options in their communities. The Iowa Workforce Development found that more than 53,000 women have left the workforce since 2020. That doesn’t include the number of women who are qualified for jobs but don’t seek them due to the inability to find or afford necessary child care. Child Care Infograph

Iowa Women’s Foundation has identified six barriers that prevent women from reaching economic self-sufficiency. Of these, child care has been labeled the primary challenge, leading IWF to collaborate with communities, employers, policymakers and funding partners to create solutions-oriented strategies for practical action.

A key piece of this action plan was the creation of the Iowa Business and Child Care Coalition (IBCCC). This coalition includes business partners like Vermeer, Alliant Energy, Casey’s, U.S. Bank, John Deere, Iowa Business Council, ABI, Principal, Iowa Credit Union League and others to identify best practices in workplaces and support replication in the Greater Des Moines (DSM) community and across the state. These partners are committed to working collaboratively to highlight how solving one of the biggest challenges of current and potential employees can reduce absenteeism, boost productivity and increase the bottom line.

Combatting Child Care Challenges

One of the key outcomes of IBCCC’s work is the development of a Toolkit designed for businesses outlining six possible solutions:

  • Backup child care options
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Offsite/nearby partnerships
  • Onsite child care
  • Subsidized child care

This resource is an initial primer for business owners, company leaders and HR professionals to get an overview of the wide menu of options that might be considered to support its workforce. Once a business becomes aware of the effect of child care struggles on their employees, we know they will have many questions and likely seek advice and guidance.

IWF, in partnership with IEDA, has an Employer Engagement Director to provide support, resources and connections to businesses that want to address child care. As of this writing, more than 120 Iowa businesses have received the IBCCC Toolkit and most have taken advantage of one-on-one consultation with our EE Director. This work has led to 40 businesses making direct investments in child care.

Iowa is full of people — who happen to be parents — that want to work, both for the financial security of their own households and to strengthen their communities. Surveys, studies and data points repeatedly deliver the news that these Iowans are sitting out or leaving the workforce as a direct result of child care challenges. There is no single solution to this reality, but collaboration, cooperation and creativity among stakeholders can begin to turn the tide. The IBCCC Toolkit is a great place to start.

The free toolkit is available in both electronic and hard copies by request at iawf.org. If you have questions, reach out to Sheri Penney, Employer Engagement Director at sheri@iawf.org or Deann Cook, IWF President & CEO at deann@iawf.org.

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*Data from iawf.org
Deann Cook

Deann Cook is the new President and CEO of Iowa Women's Foundation. She joins IWF after a decade at United Ways of Iowa leading advocacy, training, and statewide projects — including the ALICE Report for Iowa. She is based in Des Moines and leads IWF’s grantmaking, fundraising, programming and advocacy.