Johnson County groups attempting to tackle childcare worker shortage

Some Iowa Childcare facilities are wrapping up expansion projects made possible by $25 million of funding made available by the state.
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 11:27 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Several Johnson County nonprofit organizations and the county government are working to answer a childcare worker shortage.

Last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced $25 million would be available for qualifying childcare facilities to expand their operations to create new openings. The Arc of Southeast Iowa & Bill Reagan Children’s Center in Iowa was one of the places that received funding.

“We were able to receive $250,000, and we had to match that for the expansion,” Jenny Winegarden, the organization’s executive director, said.

The expansion project was finished in the last month, creating nearly 60 new openings for children. That’s nearly quadrupling the number of kids they cared for before; many of whom live with varying conditions.

“There’s no place else that will take kids with disabilities, especially the range of disabilities that we do: medically needy kids, children with autism, intellectual disabilities, the whole gamut,” Winegarden said. “We truly believe that children are children, and we treat them all the same.”

However, to fill those newly made spots, she said they’re going to need to fill at least eight new full-time positions.

“We need to fill these jobs so that we can care for the kids,” Winegarden said.

Winegarden isn’t alone; 4C’s Community Coordinated Childcare, an advocacy group for childcare in Johnson County also runs its own low-income childcare service. Missie Forbes, that group’s executive director, said childcare facilities often come to her with the issue.

“We hear on a regular basis that filling the building isn’t the problem; it’s about workforce,” Forbes said.

Forbes said part of the reason for the shortage was due to childcare worker pay.

“The Johnson County Social Services did some surveying of childcare facilities last fall, and the pay rate was anywhere but $10 an hour up to 15,” Forbes said.

Her organization is currently working with several other organizations and Johnson County to create a wage enhancement pilot program. She’s also working to get the City of Iowa City on board. This program would increase the pay of qualifying childcare employees by $2 an hour.

Forbes said they want to attract companies to jump in to continue to program if it’s successful. She said the first round of applications was turned in on Friday. Forbes expects workers to start seeing the money sometime in April.

“If we paid more, if we respected it more, I think we would attract more talent,” Winegarden said.