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June 8, 2001

Local child care need mirrors state picture

by Debra Gibson
Parents of young children are well versed in the virtues of patience -- which they usually need if they're searching for quality day care in Story County.

There are twice as many children, ages infant through 5, needing child care as there are available slots in homes or facilities, according to Julie Hagen, ISU's child care coordinator. (For children ages 6 to 12, that gap widens to 80 percent.)

The situation is similar in the two child care facilities on campus: the Iowa State University Child Care Center at Veterinary Medicine serves 87 children, and University Community Childcare at Pammel Court serves 81 children. But, as was reported during the May meeting of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, more than 300 children are waiting to get into those two centers.

"Iowa State students, faculty and staff really do need more quality child care," Hagen said. Policies for the two ISU centers recommend 60 percent occupancy by children of ISU students; faculty and staff members' children are slated to make up the remaining 40 percent. Hagen said that balance is the centers' goal, although slots do not remain unfilled.

Waiting is no game
Children under age 3 typically remain on campus child care services' waiting lists for 18 to 24 months before being enrolled, Hagen said. More than half (57 percent) of all parent requests for child care this year at ISU were for children ages 2 and younger. Iowa State offers a total of 58 infant/toddler slots at its two child care centers; 188 children currently are on the waiting list for those spaces.

Consider the statistics: Iowa ranks second nationally in the percentage of families with children in which both parents, or the only parent, works or attends school (79 percent of children ages 0 to 5 years and 83 percent of school-aged children).

Conversely, Iowa ranks 49th in the nation in subsidizing child care for low-income families. According to Hagen, while federal law allows states to serve families (of three) with annual incomes up to $33,780, Iowa provides assistance only for families earning $19,432 or less. Currently, about 2,000 Iowa low-income families are on a waiting list due to lack of available subsidy funds.

"Care for infants is more costly than for older children," Hagen explained, "which makes it even more difficult for student parents to afford the quality care their children need to thrive."

Income-based fees
Fees for the two ISU centers are based on family incomes. The Vet Med facility is ineligible for local ASSET funding or USDA reimbursement for low-income children because it is managed by a for-profit company, Bright Horizons. Fees for full-time infant care (ages 6 weeks to 2 years) for students or faculty/staff range from $541 per month (for families with an annual income of less than $25,000), up to $741 per month. The cost for a preschooler (age 3 to 5) attending that facility full time ranges from $491 to $630 per month.

That same preschooler enrolled at Pammel Court will cost his family as little as $339 per month, provided that family of three earns less than $26,178 annually. Faculty and staff parents pay from $400 to $476 per month per preschooler there. Child care fees for infants at Pammel Court range from $417 to $687 per month.

New north facility
The Pammel Court facility's tenure is short-lived; plans are now under way to replace the Pammel Court facility. According to Hagen, a committee is studying two options: renovate the administrative building at 100 University Village for a child care facility, or build a new facility between University Village and Schilletter Village. Earlier this year, the regents approved a $2 million budget for the project, which has an estimated completion date of late fall 2002.

The new facility will house about 88 children, according to Hagen, or a few more than the Pammel Court center. Though its size will not accommodate the existing waiting lists, Hagen said larger child care facilities "run into quality assurance issues.

"The research recommends smaller, more centralized child care facilities; we just need more of them," she said. "We'll always hope to add yet another one down the road."

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Published by: University Relations,
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