WATERLOO — Exceptional Persons Inc. is expanding child care options for its staff with the help of Hawkeye Community College.
The college’s Van G. Miller Adult Learning Center opening downtown in January will house a child care center operated by EPI. It will have 56 spots for infants through preschool children with first choice given to EPI staff along with Hawkeye students and staff. Any unfilled spots will then be open to the public.
“We’re just seeing new moms in our agency struggling to retain child care,” said Mary Janssen, EPI’s children and family services director. She noted EPI unsuccessfully attempted to open its own child care center two years ago. “We have around 350 total staff in our agency, and it’s a wide range of needs for child care, but we feel like definitely this will be a great start.”
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Hawkeye President Linda Allen said the new adult learning center will work with students in removing barriers to completing classes, including child care access. “We know that is a very important part of the need for some students,” she said.
“Child care in the Cedar Valley is a great need,” acknowledged Allen. “There are so many families that need child care opportunities. For our families, that is something that we always take into consideration.”
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Janssen said consultants with EPI’s Child Care Resource & Referral office report a growing number of providers retiring or leaving for higher-paying jobs in recent years.
Child care programs listed with the office have declined by 41 percent over the last five years with the actual number of spots available dropping 8 percent. In the meantime, the number of children 5 and younger in the county have increased by 2 percent, according to information online at IowaCCRR.org. There’s a gap of more than 2,800 between the number of child care spaces and preschoolers.
Such shortages led to EPI’s role in launching the Black Hawk Child Care Coalition with other organizations, legislators, business owners and funders. “We have been working on this coalition for over a year to address the need of child care,” said Janssen.
Hawkeye’s new campus, located at Jefferson Street and West Mullan Avenue, will provide adult education and English learner services. The idea to partner with EPI on the child care center was first discussed when Allen visited the agency during one of her regular business tours. Jane Bradley, Hawkeye’s vice president of academic affairs and provost, led the process on behalf of the college.
“They were interested in building a child care opportunity in the Cedar Valley and we wanted to partner with another provider for the adult learning center,” said Allen. “We had partnered with Head Start for the child care center we opened on main campus and that was a great partnership.
“We’re very excited about this partnership with EPI,” she added. “We knew how to get things off the ground, so that made partnering with them just that much easier.”
Janssen is excited about possibilities the innovative Hawkeye-Exceptional Persons partnership could reveal to other businesses whose employees experience similar child care difficulties.
“We have to get our businesses involved and make this a community issue,” said Janssen. Hopefully, she added, more businesses will say, “’Hey, how can we do this, too?’ We’re excited to kind of be that model.”