Supervisors discuss measures needed in childcare study

Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Economic Development (JCED) asked the Jones County Supervisors to consider investing $2,500 in a childcare feasibility study to benefit the county.

     JCED already approached the Monticello and Anamosa city councils with the same financial request. The study would encompass the Monticello, Anamosa and Midland school districts.

     “This is something we’ve been working on since I started,” JCED Director Derek Lumsden said. “There’s not enough childcare (in Jones County).”

     Lumsden said despite surveys with businesses and industries in the county, it’s hard to get a clear feel for the reasons as to why it can be hard to come by childcare. So JCED hired Levi Architecture out of Cedar Falls to conduct the feasibility study at a cost of $12,400.

      Lumsden said JCED and ECICOG have put money toward the project already.

     Of the childcare studies that have already been done in Iowa, Lumsden said they’re one to two years behind current data.

     “It’s hard to get a complete picture,” he said. “We want to know of the needs right now.”

     Levi Architecture plans to complete the study in three months versus the typical six-month timeframe.

     The board asked Lumsden if the school districts were financially contributing toward the study. He explained that the districts are assisting in the study, but not financially.

     “They’re helping provide information and data for the surveys,” said Lumsden.

     Supervisor Ned Rohwedder asked what would come of the data. “What is the plan to alleviate the need (for childcare)?” he said. “The margins are pretty tight in the daycare business.” Rohwedder said some have even shut down in the Anamosa and Midland school districts for various reasons.

     “Will this data solve the problem?” continued Rohwedder.

     Lumsden said the study would involve existing childcare providers, whether in-home or centers, to look toward whether expansion is needed. Or is it that parents in Jones County just don’t know what’s available.

     “Is it marketing?” proposed Lumsden. “Or do we need to open a center or more in-home services?”

     Cedar/Jones Early Childhood Iowa Director Sherri Hunt offered that the Olin School District is also interested in taking part due to its open enrollment.

     The board was concerned about possibly offending current childcare providers, namely in-home.

     “Our hope in doing it (the feasibility study) this way is not to see resistance,” said Lumsden. “We want to work with existing entities.”

     Supervisor Jon Zirkelbach inquired as to whether the study would address those families leaving the county for childcare options. Lumsden said that is one of the benchmarks as well.

     “We know this happened when the Wyoming center closed in 2019,” Lumsden said of parents looking elsewhere for childcare.

     Rohwedder added that childcare is measured by quality and affordability.

     “And affordability means different things to different families,” he said. “These qualities are harder to put numbers on.”

     Lumsden said factories in Monticello are a great example when it comes to a need for childcare during various shifts and timeframes.

     “It’s all about knowing where the needs are (geographically), what times (are needed), and what people are willing to pay,” summarized Lumsden.

     Supervisor Joe Oswald asked whether the current pandemic might skew the results in terms of need. Lumsden said questions are being drafted to address before and after the pandemic.

     Hunt and Jess Wiedenhoff, Community Health specialist, said if there’s question as to the need for childcare in Jones County, the answer is “yes.”

     “There’s definitely a need,” Hunt said. “The piece that is missing is hearing from the community. That needs to be stressed with this study. We need to work hard at getting feedback from the public.”

     Wiedenhoff said once she heard that JCED was interested in doing the feasibility study, she reached out to Lumsden. Every five years JCPH conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment, and one of the topics is childcare.

     “Through collecting data, we have a wide range of issues,” shared Wiedenhoff. “There seems to be a gap with service needs.”

     She explained that there are roughly 1,100 children ages 0-5 in Jones County. That gap Wiedenhoff spoke of involves anywhere between 200 and 250 kids who are either without childcare or who seek services outside of Jones County.

     “It’s that subset of data that we need,” she said.

     Wiedenhoff also backed up Lumsden’s claim that other factors such as cost and hours of childcare services are needed, too.

     The board of supervisors will take action at their next meeting concerning the financial request of $2,500 toward the childcare feasibility study.


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