Common Good Iowa

Sensible solutions needed for affordable, accessible and quality child care

Posted on April 5, 2022 at 5:30 PM by Sheila Hansen

What would the ideal child care system for Iowa look like, and what resources would we need to make it happen? The answers are actually simpler than what we’re getting from a lot of lawmakers.

Advocates, parents and providers have made it clear for years that a comprehensive child care strategy demands meaningful investments that assure available and affordable care, with an emphasis on quality.

That clarity of vision — access and quality — is getting lost at the State Capitol this session.

As an advocate for child care for nearly 20 years, I embraced the challenge of finding an “ideal” system for our state as Gov. Kim Reynolds convened a Child Care Task Force. I served as a member of two of the task force’s workgroups. The Task Force made strong recommendations.

Results this legislative session, however, are a series of false remedies for Iowa’s child care crisis.

Three proposals are still alive. One would increase the child/adult ratio for 2- and 3-year-olds; another would allow 16-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers. A third would charge hard-working families receiving child care assistance — by definition families working at jobs that pay so poorly they can’t meet basic needs without help — more money for care.

The Task Force included those three proposals in its report, but on the condition that they should be reviewed by the Department of Human Services for the latest research and best practices.

That review did not happen.

The proposals fail on serious improvements to access, even as they sacrifice quality.

Take the proposal to loosen ratios. Quality child care is about basic health and safety — and so much more. It is about fostering secure attachments and providing responsive care. Just increasing the number of children one provider cares for makes that harder, and puts more stress on an already exhausted and often underpaid work force.

Those other bad ideas?

  • Allowing 16-year-olds to work with little or no supervision in child care centers not only raises liability issues for center operators, but ignores the fact that 16-year-olds are usually in school during the hours most families need child care.
  • Letting child care providers accepting Child Care Assistance charge low-income families extra — for example, allowing a provider who normally charges $700 a month, but who would be reimbursed $600 by the state, to charge the low-income family $100 — threatens the most marginalized families’ ability to keep care.

Even if these so-called solutions didn’t come with serious concerns about quality, they would fail to meet the level of the need.

Two alternative solutions would come much closer to meeting the real need:

  • Increasing access to Child Care Assistance. Iowa has one of the lowest front-door income eligibility cutoffs in the nation at 145% of the poverty line, or around $33,000 for a family of 3. The state should increase it to no less than 185% of poverty.
  • Paying providers more. The state needs to step up and provide dollars to (1) increase CCA provider rates, (2) allow for annual bonuses; and (3) continue to fund WAGE$, a salary supplement program for child care providers.

These are sensible investments. Iowa needs real child care solutions to address shortages in the work force and improve the lives of children and families.


Sheila Hansen is a senior policy advocate at Common Good Iowa. Contact:

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