Work continues on improving child care access

Progress has been made on many of the actions recommended by a task force that studied how to improve access to high-quality and affordable child care for Iowa State employees and students with children. 

The task force started meeting in fall 2019, prompted by concerns raised in a campus climate survey. In fall 2020, the task force released a report identifying short-term and long-term recommendations for improving child care options in the Ames area. President Wendy Wintersteen approved proceeding with all of the recommendations.

Here's a recap of the progress, based on a recent report from university human resources (UHR):

Short term

Repurpose space: To increase capacity for the most in-demand type of child care in the area, the Comfort Zone was renovated to serve as space to care for infants and toddlers. The Comfort Zone had been a room in the University Childcare Center (UCC) devoted to caring for mildly ill children, but few parents used the service, which was becoming more difficult to staff even before it closed as the COVID-19 pandemic began. The renovation cost $117,000, about 36% paid for by a state grant, and the space was planned to open in fall 2021.

However, UCC has been unable to hire the additional staff needed to enroll children for the new space, due to a shortage of child care workers locally and nationwide. There's no timeline for when the new space will open, but recruitment is ongoing, said Cris Broshar, WorkLife and family services coordinator for UHR.

Allow flexible schedules: About 600 ISU staff participate in the new WorkFlex program, which allows employees to request adjustments in where, when and how they work, if it makes sense for their job duties and the university's mission. The task force had recommended promoting flexible schedules to make it easier for parents to attend to child care needs. 

Boost student support: The task force suggested seeking funding to increase scholarship opportunities for student parents. Since the report's release, UHR has worked to connect student parents with financial needs to academic units to pursue completion grants, Broshar said.  

Gather more data: Having more information about student parents helps connect them to resources and address their needs. For instance, a February 2020 survey of students found those who are parents cited time management and a feeling of isolation from campus as challenges, in addition to the availability and affordability of child care. Those responses helped drive the establishment of a family-friendly study room at Parks Library and networking events for student parents. 

UHR has met with the Graduate College to discuss how to better collect data on student parents on a regular basis, perhaps upon acceptance to the university and each semester when they're registering for courses, Broshar said. 

Long term

Increase student subsidy: Through contributions from the Story County Analysis of Social Services Team (ASSET), students are eligible for subsidized rates at UCC and the Ames Community Preschool Center. ISU Student Government allocations to Story County ASSET help fund the subsidies and have increased to about $117,000, up more than $21,000 since 2019.

Pursue partnerships: The task force report called for creating a permanent leadership committee to seek community partnerships to help build additional child care centers in the Ames community, potentially including the city, county, local businesses, schools and charitable groups. While the leadership committee hasn't formed yet, in part due to the time demands of responding to pandemic issues, ISU is vigorously pursuing the creation of additional child care centers, in collaboration with other area employers, the city of Ames and the Ames Chamber of Commerce.