SIBLEY—Addressing the county’s need for affordable, quality day care was the subject of a community meeting held at the Sibley-Ocheyedan High School on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Knowing that sustaining sufficient child care also supports business and community growth, a committee was formed to work with First Children’s Finance (FCF) to explore needs and solutions to the shortage of available child-care spots. Quality child care and early education also contribute to individual productivity in the future.
Members of the strategic planning committee are chamber director Ashley Ackerman, city council member Mitchell Ackerman, Osceola Regional Health Center CFO Craig Carstens, Sibley-Ocheyedan superintendent Jamie Craig, Osceola Regional Health Center CEO Ben Davis, and Osceola County Economic Development Commission director Stephanie Neppl.
A similar presentation was given to county government and business representatives earlier in the day. There was also a survey taken of county employers.
“Lack of child care has hindered our ability to recruit and retain employees. It has also led to employees from outside of the county to find jobs elsewhere because they cannot find child care,” one survey response said.
Sibley-Ocheyedan School District superintendent James Craig was also in attendance.
“Talking about it at meetings like this is crucial — sharing important information about how together we can find solutions to enhance and grow child care in Osceola County,” Craig said.
Angie Rae Duncan, business specialist for FCF, led the night’s session. She presented the findings from the study that was completed; the vision for child care in Osceola County as it relates to children, parents, child-care businesses and local businesses; and goals going forward.
“This has been a little bit of a process the last year or so,” she said. “I’m excited today. It’s been a long time coming to bring you this information. What we’re going to look at tonight is the status of child care in Osceola County.”
The steering committee worked through two components, including a child-care market analysis that looked at trends and supply, and developing a strategic plan.
“We came up with a few goals and action steps — how are we going to actually achieve those over the next 3-5 years,” Duncan said.
Nine key areas were outlined as issues related to day-care needs:
- There are fewer children under 12 than there were 20 years ago. Duncan noted that one possible reason is that some parents did attest that child care is affecting their decision on whether or not to have children.
- Parents are in the labor force and need child care. For families that have children ages 0-5, 62 percent have all parents in the work force. For children ages 6-17, 76 percent of their parents all work.
- Parents strongly prefer regulated child-care settings, followed by a regulated home.
- Only half of parents are using their preferred child-care setting, with the biggest reason for not doing so being no openings.
- Two thirds of parents said they had a “difficult” or “very difficult” time finding child care.
- There is a shortage of child-care spaces in Osceola County. FCF estimates a need for 552 spaces, with 168 available and only 148 of those being year-round.
- The county’s median family income of $61,250 is higher than the governmental child-care assistance threshold.
- Parents indicated child care is affecting their employment because of issues such as leaving work early, missing work due to not having child care, being late for work, bringing a child to work or not being able to work overtime.
- Employers indicated child care is affecting productivity and attendance, with half noting productivity issues and three in 10 experiencing absenteeism.
“We took all this information, met over a couple of months, and really then worked on developing a strategic plan — what are some goals and strategies to fill the child-care gap,” Duncan said. “What we did with this then is, how do we get there?”
The committee came up with the following goals:
- Increase the supply of child-care spaces in Osceola County by 140 spaces over the next three to five years by increasing the number of, and identifying spaces for, registered child development homes.
- Develop business and community supports for viable child care businesses in Osceola County, by providing a local connection to resources and supports, and establishing a countywide child-care initiative fund. Many employers expressed support for scholarships or general assistance for child-care needs.
- Engage employers and the community in child-care partnerships, including the provision of resources and information about child-care related benefits.
“Part of seeing measurable results is getting that information out to the community and getting everybody on board to start to make some progress,” she said.
The committee will continue to monitor how the process is going. Staffing will be one significant challenge to expansion. Those attending shared several suggestions for possible options to consider while addressing this issue.
“There’s a lot of pieces to this, but a lot of it is identifying who out there is doing what,” Neppl said. “We have some key partners. An important part of it is just sharing all the feedback so that we know that we’re all in this together. We’re all trying to do good things. We just need a lot of support on that.”
Davis agreed. “This is attainable, but we do need everybody,” he said.
Community members are encouraged to contact committee members if they would like additional information or would be willing to help with some part of the implementation process.