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Black Hawk Child Care Coalition

Expanding childcare access for more people in Iowa

In 2015, Black Hawk County saw a 40 percent decline in childcare centers and programs. This decline prompted an urgent need to fill the childcare access gap within the community.

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We started to hear from businesses that they were having a hard time recruiting and retaining staff [because of the lack of childcare].


Total Childcare Spaces

The Challenge

In 2015, Black Hawk County recognized that the childcare crisis was affecting the entire community. That year, 40 percent of childcare programs left the field (child development homes and licensed centers), leaving a gap of 3,000 childcare spaces. The local Child Care Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa began hearing directly from businesses in the area that they were having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

It was clear there was a need for access to childcare, along with funding for various small businesses like Exceptional Persons Inc., which serves adults with disabilities and houses Childcare Resource and Referral of Northeast Iowa (serving 19 counties), and a local manufacturing company that at one point, was losing five staff per month – averaging $4,000 per staff member – due to the lack of childcare availability. The county had even seen businesses decide not to expand because of a perceived labor shortage caused by childcare challenges.

At the time, many community organizations even declined grant funding to businesses that were attempting to address childcare availability for employees, citing the absence of a community need. Clearly, there was a disconnect between the real needs of families with children and the community perception.

The Solution

The Coalition created a co-op of businesses that came together to form Child Care Services. The idea was to financially support childcare services in the community by working alongside businesses to build relationships and elevate the childcare conversation. It was important to communicate to area businesses that a lack of childcare is an employment barrier for many workers. They sought to champion businesses that were willing to come forward and lead childcare partnerships.

In spring of 2018, Hawkeye Community College (HCC) approached Exceptional Persons Inc. (EPI) to discuss partnership options. HCC was opening a new building off campus and didn’t want to manage another child care center alone.  The current child care facility on campus had been losing money each year. HCC’s leadership team met with a Coalition team member to brainstorm ideas and eventually, selected EPI as their partner.

In fall of 2018, Friendship Village, a senior living community, approached Levi Architecture to look at potential properties for childcare services for their employees and the community. It was determined a new build was the best option. Friendship Village owned land across from their campus. Plans began in fall of 2018 and ground was broken by December 2018. The Child Care Center opened in July 2019.

Diagnosing the Problem

In 2017, members of the Black Hawk Childcare Coalition began community meetings with childcare providers and community leaders about the need for childcare, and how they could provide solutions. Those community meetings underscored the need to better educate the community and employers on the need access to quality childcare. Iowa Women’s Foundation, Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, Community Foundation of NE Iowa, and two other community partners, created a statewide partnership that developed a Community Solutions Tour, which in 2018, convened its first meeting of more than 40 community members to begin developing childcare solutions
in Black Hawk County.

Key Partners

The needs of the communities being served are varied, and partnership solutions have also varied, but the common theme is leveraging private and public sector resources for mutually beneficial opportunities.

Partners include:

Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral
Levi Architecture, Cedar Falls Iowa
Iowa Women’s Foundation
Iowa Statewide Private Public Partnership Team
Community Foundation of NE Iowa
McElroy Trust
United Way
Hawkeye Community College
Western Home (Senior Living Community)
Friendship Village (Senior Living Community)
VGM & Associates
University of Northern Iowa
Grow Cedar Valley
Waterloo Community School District
Community Champions Passionate About the Childcare Crisis


Total children from birth to 12 in Iowa


Families with all parents working out-of-home


Total programs (all Licensed or Registered)

Hurdles & Key Tactics

The Coalition confronted a few hurdles in addressing the childcare crisis. There was the challenge of funders lacking an understanding of the need for childcare, requiring more education for employers about how it affects recruitment and retention costs. Collecting meaningful data about childcare needs from employers through community surveys was an initial hurdle, which took having several community partners promote and disseminate the survey. Forming the coalition was a challenge, considering that it required bringing the right community leaders with varying expertise to the table, with a willingness to do real work to better the community.

Program tactics included adding more business courses to community colleges’ curriculum; elevating the childcare conversation with the private sector and forming a business co-op model; exploring an insurance package for childcare programs; building better childcare businesses by developing better business practices; and working alongside the refugee population to determine services for families in underserved communities.

Has the Program Shown Success?

Currently, the Child Care Resource and Referral agencies work alongside new centers with day-to-day needs. Hawkeye Community College (HCC) and Exceptional Persons, Inc. (EPI) joined efforts to open the ALC Child Development Center. The center opened in 2019 with 56 slots available to employees and students of EPI/HCC and the community. Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa contributed start-up funding. It Takes a Village (Friendship Village) Child Care opened a childcare center in July 2019. The 7,000 square foot building will house more than 100 children with 24/7 care and a get-well center.
Each project is an opportunity to learn and offer better, more unique solutions. Many other projects are in various stages of becoming reality.

Is This a Repeatable Model?

It’s important to understand this program can be replicated. The key is helping businesses understand that this is not a simple process that can operate without collaboration, it requires bringing the right people together to form sustainable solutions. This program is currently working in 16 communities across the state, with intention to further expand childcare access. Iowa Women’s Foundation is working with more than 30 communities, and the co-op business model in the Cedar Valley (Cedar Valley Kids) is currently projecting to operate on a two-year timeline.

Addressing the Childcare Need and the Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has amplified the struggles that families experience with finding access to and affording quality licensed childcare. Many centers have temporarily or permanently closed, reducing the availability in the community. The Coalition and local school district leadership formed a COVID-19 Task Force to address the needs of the child care community. The amplified crisis has elevated the conversation about childcare challenges for the employer as well as the community. With work-from-home employment opportunities, childcare is essential to maintain productivity.

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