CHANGING UP CHILD CARE: It Takes a Village takes a unique approach to child care | Waterloo


WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Finding child care is a struggle for many parents. There aren’t enough open positions child care spots in communities where families work and live, pushing some parents out of the workforce. One retirement community has come up with a solution for their employees and say it might be the future look of child care.

Back in 2019, Friendship Village broke ground on a child care center now known as It Takes a Village Child Care. This facility was envisioned to be a 24/7 child care operation for the staff of Friendship Village and other families in the Cedar Valley.

It’s not your ordinary child care facility. Since Friendship Village serves the retirement-aged community, leaders at the retirement community saw the need for child care as an opportunity to bring together two generations.

“The interaction between the elderly and the littles because you lose that. It’s important for the littles to experience the elderly and have that respect we’ve lost over the generations,” said Lisa Gates, Executive Director at Friendship Village.

She said she got the idea back in 2003 as she was working on a certification. She saw a facility in southern Iowa that was doing a similar thing: offering child care and involving the retirees.

Friendship Village residents can volunteer in the child care center whenever they want. Gates said this gives them the chance to play with kids when their own grandchildren might live hundreds of miles away.

“When they come over, they say ‘this is the best part of my day. I’m so glad I came here, I just might stay for lunch,” said Tracy Newton, Director of It Takes a Village Child Care.

Newton said the facility is a great opportunity for the residents, who the children call “grandparents,” because of the way families tend to spread out now. Many residents may not have seen their families for quite some time. It’s a way to bond with the younger generation and also find something they enjoy.

For smaller communities who are struggling to create child care openings, Gates said this could very well be an option or the future of child care. If a community has an retirement facility and a child care center, this could be a solution to help.

“I think it is part of the future. It adds an avenue of bringing value to folks that are in their retirement years where you wake up in the morning and go ‘well now what do I do?’ It brings value to come over here and spend time with the littles,” said Gates.

Of course there are limitations. It Takes a Village can only take as many children as their licensed child care providers are legally allowed to handle, but bringing in residents can help spread the work around. It’s also a benefit for Friendship Village staff. They can drop their child off before their shift right across the street.

Gates said they would like to expand one day and work out partnerships with other businesses where off-hours child care is needed like MercyOne, which is right next door.

Like so many other things, COVID-19 affected the work they do at It Takes a Village. COVID forced an end to the “grandparent” visits for a time and also forced them to cut back on being a 24/7 child care facility due to staffing shortages. Gates said they are doing everything they can to hire “the best of the best” and be able to provide this service to their staff again.

Many companies have recognized the need to provide child care if they want to get the workforce they had pre-pandemic back. Some are taking the It Takes a Village approach and creating an in-house option for employees, setting them apart from other employers. 

The child care shortage is nothing new. Iowa had a shortage before the pandemic and COVID only exacerbated the issue. Governor Reynolds claims the state of Iowa has lost 33 percent of its child care businesses in the last five years and the state is short 350,000 slots for kids younger than 12.

The state has been giving out grants and credits to help increase child care availability in the state. The Dubuque Dream Center is expanding with its recent purchase of the former Fulton Elementary School building.

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