Finding childcare is not easy, and has been recognized as a problem in Lee County. It is a situation not unique to Lee County or, indeed, Iowa.
According to the office of the governor, Iowa has lost about 33% of its child care businesses over the past five years and the state is short about 350,000 child care slots for children younger than 12 years of age.
Nearly a quarter of Iowans, according to the office of the governor, live in a “childcare desert” or area with a shortage of licensed providers.
In Lee County there has been some recent growth. YMCA Learning Centers Director Anna Dobson said the YMCA Learning Centers in Donnellson are looking to increase in staff.
“In order to bring on more children, we have to increase our staff, and we’re actually sitting at a really good point right now, but we are definitely looking to increase the amount of kids that we can take,” she said. “We do have spots available currently, but we would be in better shape if we could get a couple full-time staff and then we’d be able to take on quite a few more children, actually.”
The Early Learning Center takes care of children from newborns to 2-year-olds. The Learning Center houses 3-year-olds and older.
Currently at the Early Learning Center, Dobson said, there are 14 kids enrolled and three full-time staff. The ratio, Dobson said, is mainly one staff member for seven kids.
“Seven 2-year-olds in one room with one teacher can be a bit challenging; that’s why we are looking to add more staff. That way it takes away that overwhelming feeling,” she said. “So the 2-year-old (ratio) is 1 to 7 per legislation. However, I would like there to be two.”
Having two adults per seven children, Dobson said, would allow them to bring on five more 2-year-olds.
“Of course, until we find more staff, we can’t do so, but that is our hope, to be able to take more 2-year-olds.
While increasing the staff-child ratio has helped the learning center bring in more kids, Dobson said, it comes with its own set of challenges.
“More kids per teacher is excellent when it comes to the ability to enroll kids,” she said. “However when it comes to behaviors and education and all the things that encompass a daycare and a preschool, it can be a bit more challenging when there is only one person to more children than there is less.”
The YMCA learning center is thriving, Dobson said, with a preschool program for 3-year-olds, one for 4-year-olds and before- and after-school care.
“We have about 15 kids here on and off throughout the day. And then before and after school, we get the kindergarten and older on the school bus and then we get them back off again around the 4:00 hour,” she said. “So we’ve been doing pretty good with staff as well. We keep about 2 full time staff here at all times in this building to accommodate the ratio there.”
Along with the legislation increasing staff-child ratios, it was also approved to allow people as young as 16 to provide daycare without supervision.
“We currently have 2 high school employees and they are fabulous. They do really well with the kids,” she said. “We are not to the point now where we are allowing them to be here unsupervised.”
Allowing 16-year-olds to provide daycare unsupervised is an employer decision, Dobson said.
“But if we had to do so, the two high schoolers that I do have currently would excel in that. They are very responsible and they are very good with the kids,” she said. “We just have not personally chosen to go that route quite yet. We haven’t had the need to. We’ve done pretty well in that area.”
Dobson said the hope is with new full-time staff, everything and everyone can be accommodated.
Dobson said a lot of advertising for staff has been done via social media and word of mouth.
“Word of mouth has been great, we’ve gotten a few great employees by word of mouth,” she said. “We’re such a small town that it’s helped that a lot of our staff knows a lot of people, a lot of our families know a lot of people and that’s brought us a few really great staff members.”
The starting wage at the learning centers is $10. Dobson said there’s a lot of growth and potential for those who can prove their work ethic and responsibility with the kids.
“There’s potential for raises and benefits, with all jobs,” she said. “A lot of what I look for is the love of the job and the ability to care for children and help them grow and help them learn and the desire to do so and to want to be here with them makes a huge difference as well.”
Dobson said while it can be hard to find child care, it’s getting better slowly but surely.
“We’re doing everything on our part to try and increase the amount of families that we can take while still maintaining the current ones,” she said. “And making sure that the centers are running like they should and everyone is happy and everybody is healthy.”