Bill to let older teens care for babies, toddlers in Iowa child care centers

DES MOINES — 16 and 17-year-olds could care for infants and toddlers at child care centers by themselves under a bill advancing in the Iowa House. There would have to be at least two adults elsewhere in the facility. The bill expands on a law passed in 2022 that lets 16- and 17-year-olds be in charge of school-age kids in child care centers.

Republican Representative Devon Wood of New Market says she supports the bill because there’s a workforce shortage in child care centers. “It’s an option for them to utilize, especially in some situations where right now they may not be able to safely take a break due to the number of folks that they have available to watch a child,” Wood says.

Ryan Page, an administrator in the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, says the change would let a 16-year-old be charge of the care of four babies — or ten three-year-olds.  “I would still continue to have concerns about putting a 16-year-old in an environment with children that can’t self-report and can’t self-protect,” she said, “especially as we see challenging behaviors in certain age groups — two-year-olds biting, three-year-old behaviors.”

An official with United Way of Central Iowa says beyond safety concerns, having older teens care for that many infants and toddlers by themselves will lead to burn out — at a time when child care centers hope the 16 and 17 year olds they employ to look after school-aged kids may choose child care as a career.