Foundation shares childcare study findings


Finding affordable, reliable childcare in Clayton County is a challenge that impacts parents, employers and the economy. For rural — and often shrinking — communities, access to childcare is key to helping schools, hospitals and industries thrive. That’s why the Clayton County Foundation for the Future (CCFF) has launched a countywide childcare market study that’s bringing leaders to the table to create a plan of action. 

Results from a fall survey of providers, parents and employers were shared during a three-hour stakeholder meeting in December. Of parents surveyed, 67% that had looked for care for children ages 0 to 5 (not in kindergarten) and 52% that had looked for care for children ages 5 to 12 reported having a difficult time finding care for their children because of obstacles like no openings and long waitlists with preferred providers. Data shows that there are enough spaces among Iowa Department of Health and Human Services regulated Clayton County providers to serve just 37% of children whose parents need full-time, year-round care, indicating a gap as high as 975 spaces during the school year – especially for school-age children before and after school That gap decreases slightly to 946 during the summer months when additional school-age spaces are available.

Additional findings include: 

  • The percentage of families with all parents in the labor force is increasing. More parents working means a greater need for child care. As of 2021, 80% of families with children ages 0 to 5 and 79% of families with children ages 6 to 17 living in Clayton County have all parents in the labor force. In 2016, those percentages were 70% and 77% respectively.
  • Parents prefer licensed, center-based child care available full-time and year-round.
  • Median family income is higher than the childcare assistance threshold, yet many parents reported having difficulty paying for child care expenses out of pocket. According to one parent surveyed, “The rate at which daycare is going up is outpacing my paycheck and it is beginning to become a hardship for our family.”

Childcare challenges are affecting parents in their jobs. According to the survey: 

  • Over 25% of parents are experiencing limited employment due to child care challenges, including working reduced hours, being unable to work weekend and evening hours, and not working in a preferred field.
  • In the last year, at least 25% of parents reported experiencing at least one of the following adverse effects on their job due to child care challenges: having to leave work early, missing work because their provider was closed, on vacation, or not available, arriving late, or being unable to work overtime. 

Childcare challenges are impacting local businesses:

  • Over the last 12 months, 60% of employers surveyed reported employees missing at least one day of work because their childcare provider was closed, on vacation, or not available, while 25% had employees missed work because their provider did not have space available for the child. 
  • In that same time span, 25% of employers reported employees were unable to work a different schedule or shift because of child care challenges. 

Childcare providers reported willingness to expand and serve more children if they had funding for new or to increase the size of their facilities, help recruiting staff and help finding ways to pay competitive wages. 

The Foundation applied for and received a grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and raised matching funds from local partners to contract with First Children’s Finance, a national leader in supporting childcare providers, communities and governments to sustain childcare businesses. First Children’s Finance is conducting a six-month project, including a market analysis and strategic planning process, which will result in Clayton County’s first professional analysis of child care challenges, strengths, and potential solutions. The analysis and resulting plan will serve as a guide for building partnerships and implementing solutions.

“The Foundation’s mission is to build stronger communities to ensure a bright future for our county. One important piece of that is addressing challenges around child care that are impacting children and families, businesses, providers, and communities,” says Emily Sadewasser, foundation coordinator. “We’re learning more and working together to find ways for Clayton County to sustain quality, affordable child care for those who need it.” This project is sponsored in part by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Funding partners include Alpine Communications, the Clayton County Board of Supervisors, Clayton County Development Group, Guttenberg Municipal Hospitals and Clinics and the Roger and Connie Halvorson CCFF Fund for Entrepreneurship.