Summit kicks off cross-sector planning to address region’s child care needs
The Dubuque region is a “child care desert” — but a diverse group of leaders convened by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is now working toward solving this critical problem.
Presented in partnership with other regional organizations, the Community Foundation’s first Child Care Solutions Summit in October brought together more than 100 community members invested in improving child care access, affordability and quality.
“To tackle a thorny issue like child care, we need to dream big,” said Nancy Van Milligen, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation. “We are now at the point where we must come together as a community to address this issue head on.”
The Community Foundation has led research over the past two years into the region’s child care challenges, revealing key issues:
- Lack of child care is a significant barrier to opportunity for families across the region.
- Child care must be viewed as a critical piece of infrastructure that drives economic growth.
The summit was the first opportunity for leaders from different sectors to meet in the same room and begin discussing solutions, such as employee benefits, community partnerships and legislative action.
Some solutions are already in the works, such as a partnership between the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. and Northeast Iowa Community College to train child care providers as part of the Opportunity Dubuque initiative. Child care would be available during class as well as for a period of time after those who complete the class find jobs in the field.
The idea, said Kristin Dietzel, vice president of workforce solutions for the Greater Dubuque Development Corp., is to increase the number of child care providers, build the workforce and, ultimately, make Dubuque a “region of choice” for potential workers by providing an essential piece of community infrastructure in child care.
“We talked to employers last year, and one-third identified child care as a significant barrier for the existing workforce,” Dietzel said. “That doesn’t even address the workers who haven’t come to their doors.”
Other solutions are still in the idea stage — but the opportunity for collaboration opened the door to making them reality.
For example, some employers in attendance discussed their desire to open on-site child care centers for employees but didn’t know how it could be financially feasible. However, after hearing about one model in Centerville, Iowa — an innovative partnership between an employer and child care provider to transform a shuttered school into a center for care — attendees started thinking outside the box.
Other attendees discussed the potential for employers to offer flexible spending accounts for child care and for local stakeholders to pool their resources into “community collectives” that can serve as hubs for peer learning and provider networking.
“There are so many different parts to this conundrum,” said attendee Hilary Dalton, office manager for American Customer Care in Dubuque. “I’m thankful for this opportunity, because we wouldn’t have known each other unless we had the chance to sit down at this table.”
The Community Foundation’s goal now is to keep the conversation going to help bring solutions to life, said Jason Neises, the foundation’s community development coordinator.
“Now is the time to look around our community, see what resources exist, and leverage them to address this need,” Neises said.
The Community Foundation has collected numerous child care resources that you can download and use in your own discussions.