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Report Finds Drop In Iowa's Licensed Child Care Centers During COVID-19

Two workers help a group of 3-year-old children at Hope Learning Center, the only licensed child care facility in Lucas County, Iowa.
Natalie Krebs
IPR File
Two workers help a group of 3-year-old children at Hope Learning Center, the only licensed child care facility in Lucas County in March.

A new report by the non-profit Child Care Aware of America found about half the state's licensed childcare facilities have closed between January and July.

A new report has found about half the state’s licensed child care centers have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thereport by the non-profit Child Care Aware of America found the state’s licensed child care centers dropped from nearly 1,590 in January to just over 802 in July.

However, the report found the state’s in-home providers fared much better. They reported 2,542 providers in January and 2,546 providers in July - a slight increase.

Kristina Haynie, a senior data analyst with the non-profit, said licensed centers may be struggling because they have more children and staff to manage.

"So many parents might be working from home or they're unemployed, they might not be sending their children to childcare at this point," she said. "And so, centers if they don't have that many children, it's really not feasible for them to stay in business."

Haynie said larger centers, which were often running on "razor-thin profit margins" before the pandemic, may be struggling with additional costs associated with new cleaning and child-staff ratio requirements.

"Group sizes that used to be maybe nine children per classroom has gone down to, you know, half that, but they can't let go staff and so they're paying the same number of staff, but serving fewer children," she said.

Dionne Dobbins, the senior director of research at Child Care Aware of America, said parents may be more comfortable during the pandemic putting their children in a space with fewer people and in-home providers have more flexibility serving different aged children.

"If you're in a center, and you've got an infant classroom, you've got to fill that infant classroom, or you've got a preschool classroom, you got to fill that preschool classroom," she said. "Whereas if you're a family childcare provider, as long as you're staying within your regulations, in terms of the number of children of different ages that you can serve, you may be able to accommodate people who have two kids or may need to accommodate people who have an older child."

Haynie said some licensed centers may be categorizing themselves as temporary closures, and it will be a few months before it can be determined if they will close permanently.

Iowa was already facing a child care crisis before the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of the state's residents were estimated to live in a child care desert and the number of programs listed under the state’s Child Care Resource and Referral Center dropped 37 percent between 2014 and 2019.

Unlike some other states, Iowa never shut down its licensed child care centers due to COVID-19. Gov. Kim Reynolds said it was necessary to keep the centers running for the state's essential workers.

The report recommends the government invest $50 billion in the nation's child care programs, make data more accessible to researchers and provide more resources to support families and providers.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter