Child Care Works collaborative launches program to tackle child care crisis in Cerro Gordo County

MASON CITY — The Child Care Works collaborative has launched their programs in response to the child care crisis in Cerro Gordo County.

The Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health and the Mason City Chamber of Commerce have partnered with the deBeaumont Foundation’s Innovative Multi-sector Partnerships for Community Transformation program to develop strategies for addressing the child care shortage, focusing on tackling staff shortages, workforce decline, and improving reliability for working families.

CG Public Health population health manager Kelli Gerdes says as the project gets underway, all the county’s child care providers are reporting staffing shortages, leading to nearly 44% of potential child care slots being unfilled.  “We have a huge waiting list, 300-plus right now, primarily with our zero-to-two age ranges, and wages just continue to be the red flag for us to even stop the bleed really and start to put some band-aids on things before we can even start to build centers, which I hope we can report in five years.”

Gerdes says the centerpiece of their initiative is a wage supplement program, boosting child care center staff salaries by $2 an hour, resulting in an annual investment of up to $1 million in increased wages for the local child care sector.   “Starting wage average for our centers was $9.51. No career or position in Cerro Gordo County could we find with less than that, even lifeguards and such. This is what broke my heart, staff that had worked in these centers for ten-plus years were capping out at $15 an hour. You can’t live on that and make that part of a career. As a parent, when you drop your child off, you want quality workers, you want quality child care. You want that to be a rich environment to develop and grow in.”

Launched on January 1st, the program has enrolled six centers with a total of 152 staff members. Supported by a $100,000 grant from the deBeaumont Foundation, it garnered matching funds from the state and 15 local businesses totaling $970,500 for 2024. Gerdes made her comments at Thursday’s “State of North Iowa” event sponsored by the Mason City Chamber of Commerce.