Johnson County parents struggle to find accessible child care

Affordability and availability of child care has been on a decline for years, impacting mothers in Johnson County and throughout the state.


Grace Katzer, News Reporter

Tia Kohrt, a nurse and mother of three from Tiffin, Iowa, encounters barriers when searching for child care for her nine-week-old. 

“The biggest challenge I have faced is all the licensed centers around Johnson County have close to a year-long waiting list,” she said. “As a nurse, I can’t call off work that easily if I don’t have someone to take care of my kids.”

Iowa lost 33 percent of its child care businesses over the last five years with a shortfall of over 350,000 child care slots across the state, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation. 

Kohrt said the search for a licensed daycare center is difficult.

“[Child care] is definitely not more accessible or affordable. If anything, the price has gone up, and there are even more kids in the area,” she said. “Back when I was in college, I remember having two small kids in daycare. Working and affording daycare was more feasible for a two parents’ income or just having one of the parents stay home.” 

Dawn Oliver Wiand, chief executive officer and president of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, said child care is a broken system with underpaid employees. 

“Child care workers are the third-lowest paid profession in our state, only ahead of locker room attendants and lifeguards,” Oliver Wiand said. 

The Iowa Women’s Foundation reported in September the total number of programs accepting child care assistance dropped 34 percent in the past five years.

Oliver Wiand said the foundation is making progress with child care in Iowa.

“We are seeing more private-public partnerships formed with businesses, the county, and nonprofits,” she said. “There are increasing funds that will help subsidize the wages of child care providers around the area.”

The state added more incentivization programs for child care workers this year: 

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The Iowa City City Council and the Iowa Women’s Foundation are working to provide relief for local mothers impacted by the child care shortage by partnering with nonprofit organizations and increasing funds statewide. 

Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem Megan Alter said she campaigned on fixing issues with the child care system.

“There has been a round of funding requests, many through ARPA funding, targeting child care,” she said. “There have also been agencies that have put in money towards doing more community outreach, especially in marginalized communities.”

Although Alter said she was fortunate with her three children, the issue of child care hits home. 

“My husband and I were always looking at affordability. We both kicked into our paychecks, and child care became a big part of our budget,” she said. “It was expensive ten years ago, and it has only gone up since then.”