Market analysis: Child care needed

A recent market analysis of Jefferson County has revealed the county is suffering from a child care shortage.

The Jefferson County Child Care Steering Committee, the Fairfield Economic Development Association, and the Iowa/Jefferson/Keokuk Early Childhood Area Board commissioned First Children?s Finance to perform the market analysis.

The key findings of the analysis are:

? Fifty-eight percent of families with children ages 0-5, and 70 percent of families with children ages 6-17 have all parents in the labor force.

? Child care spaces declined in the past year, from 570 in July 2017 to 533 in May 2018. This counts spaces in licensed child care centers, registered child development homes and child care homes.

? First Children?s Finance estimates that 938 children ages 0-9 have all parents working, so with only 533 child care spaces in regulated programs, there is likely a demand for child care not being met.

? A survey of parents indicated that 66 percent said it was somewhat difficult or very difficult to find child care in the county. Obstacles noted were wait lists, costs, quality and lack of options for part-time enrollment.

? Parents have indicated that a lack of child care is affecting their employment, forcing 60 percent of those surveyed to miss a day of work in the past year. Other problems of parents surveyed were: leaving work early or arriving late (58 percent); difficulty changing shifts (23 percent); and lower quality of work (14 percent).

? Employers indicated the lack of child care affects them, too. Seventy percent of survey respondents said their company has experienced loss of productivity or absenteeism due to child care challenges, and 40 percent said they had problems hiring employees because of child care.

First Children?s Finance recommended increasing the number of regulated child care spaces in the county. In particular, it recommended building a new center because so many children need care and Fairfield is large enough to support enough employment opportunities for parents. First Children?s Finance suggests engaging current child care providers and employers in the discussion.

The Jefferson County Child Care Steering Committee and other stakeholders from Jefferson County are convening three strategic planning sessions to discuss the market analysis and suggest a remedy.

FEDA executive director Joshua Laraby said the market for child care will suffer another blow with the impending closure of Foursquare Daycare. Foursquare Daycare learned it would have to update its building to comply with fire code, and that was too expensive.

The Rev. Matthew Crowl of Fairfield Foursquare Church announced in May the day care would stay open as long as the Department of Human Services allows. He said about 40 kids use the day care on a daily basis, and about 80 are enrolled.

Tammy Wetjen-Kesterson of Early Childhood Iowa said she wants to get the word out that there are free resources available to those who wish to start or expand a day care facility.

Laraby said the lack of child care has a cascading effect on society, costing both workers and their employers lost time and money. He and Wetjen-Kesterson are helping businesses and community leaders realize that child care is infrastructure, and should be thought of in the same vein as schools, streets and housing.