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Health department evaluating urgent need for childcare in Lee County

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The problem is worse in some areas of the county, with the communities of Fort Madison and Montrose both considered “childcare deserts.”

The Lee County Health Department received a five-year grant from Prevent Child Abuse Iowa to take a deep look at the current state of children and families in the county.

One of the problem areas identified through community input early on in the grant cycle is an urgent need for childcare.

“Childcare is really hard to find, especially for infant care,” said Breanna Kramer Riesberg, Community Outreach and Project Development Coordinator for the health department. “And when we looked at the data, that was reflected back.”

There are roughly two children age five or younger for every childcare opening countywide.

The problem is worse in some areas of the county, with the communities of Fort Madison and Montrose both considered “childcare deserts.”

“That’s causing a lot of troubles when we’re looking at workforce stability, and parents’ ability to get the jobs that they want,” said Kramer-Riesberg. “Especially when they’re looking at a year-long waitlist to get into childcare.”

Kramer-Riesberg said she’s heard from a number of families whose first phone call when they find out they are pregnant is to see if a childcare slot will be available.

There are also no licensed evening or overnight childcare providers in the county.

That’s another problem in a market that is heavy on manufacturing and industry jobs, and has many parents working second or third shift.

So far, investigation of the childcare crisis in Lee County has revealed that many in-home childcare providers turned into childcare centers over time.

Now, there are fewer of those centers in the county.

Plus, the centers that are in operation are not fully staffed, making the root of the crisis a workforce issue.

“It’s all in the staffing,” said Kramer-Riesberg. “A lot of our childcare centers are licensed to provide care to more children than what they’re able to because they just don’t have the staff to provide quality care for that many kids.”

She explained that childcare workers need to have a specific skill set and passion work with children day after day, but most make under $10 an hour.

Childcare providers can’t increase wages without passing on the costs to families, many of which already struggle with the cost of childcare.

Kramer-Riesberg said providers need grants or other investments to pay a livable wage, attract more workers, and serve more families.

The health department is conducting surveys of employers, families, and childcare providers to get current data and begin formulating solutions.

Kramer-Riesberg said all families are encouraged to complete the survey, even if they don’t currently need childcare.

The surveys will take 10 to 15 minutes to complete and are available until June 15.

They are linked below, and are also accessible via the Empowering Families in Lee County Facebook page.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.