Child care providers face a variety of challenges heading into 2022

T-R PHOTO BY SUSANNA MEYER — Lisa Hines is the owner and director of the Little Scholars Learning Center in Marshalltown.

The last few years have presented numerous difficulties for child care providers and parents both across the country and in Marshalltown. Locally, they’re facing staffing problems and high overhead costs, and parents remain concerned about the cost and availability.

Becky Kouang, the owner and manager of Dandy Lion Early Childhood Learning Place, said staffing has always been a primary concern of hers even prior to COVID, but the current circumstances have exacerbated those problems. Dandy Lion is a home provider — meaning the facility is run out of a private residence as opposed to a daycare center — and Kouang said this often makes onboarding new staff a longer process.

“(With) normal jobs, you can apply for a job and usually they hire you, and you can start right away, but with child care there’s basic trainings and the background check. With the home providers, it takes like 30 days to do a background check,” Kouang said. “There for a while, we weren’t able to get in to do the fingerprints at the police station because they weren’t doing them because of COVID.”

On top of staffing, Kouang has seen expenses to keep the daycare running go up, as food and paper products, among other items, have become more expensive. Paired with the necessity of paying employees a good wage, this makes lowering the costs of child care for parents extremely difficult.

“(Child care) is a major cost for parents, but then when you look at what child care providers make, their incomes aren’t usually very high. The overhead costs have gone up quite a bit during this time,” Kouang said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO — Children play at the Dandy Lion Early Childhood Learning Place in Marshalltown.

Another facility in Marshalltown, Elim Children’s Center, is facing similar staffing and compensation issues. The interim director, Kathy McCune, says Elim has a strong core staff, but filling in gaps has still been difficult.

“Trying to find new employees for positions that do open up has been a challenge,” McCune said. “Those positions just are not being filled, and child care workers in general, because I think their pay is so low, are harder to come by.”

McCune said keeping costs low enough that families can afford them is important, but it often limits the benefits they are able to provide to staff.

The Little Scholars Learning Center, owned by Lisa Hines, currently faces fewer staffing issues, but Hines recognizes that cost tends to be an issue for parents.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22, because if you want child care to be less expensive, you can’t pay your people as well, and you get what you pay for. If you want quality, good staff, you have to pay for those guys,” she said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO — Becky Kouang and her husband Patrick are the owner/operators at Dandy Lion Childhood Learning Place, a home provider of child care. The playground is pictured.

While staffing and cost have been challenges across the board for both parents and child care providers, certain aids and grants have helped to lessen the strain. Child Care Assistance (CCA) is a program that parents who meet the income requirements can apply for to help with the costs. While not all child care centers accept CCA, Dandy Lion, Elim and Little Scholars do.

Kouang said that because Dandy Lion accepts CCA, the center became eligible to apply for certain stabilization grants from the government. To qualify, the provider either had to prove a loss of income during the pandemic or prove that at least 25 percent of enrolled children were from families using CCA.

“Normally, when a provider takes Child Care Assistance, just like a doctor’s office that would take Medicaid, they agree to accepting a lower amount of money,” Kouang said. “The newest grant that just came through is absolutely wonderful for providers.”

Grants like the one Dandy Lion received have been helping providers all over Marshalltown. By incentivizing the acceptance of CCA for child care providers, it in turn helps parents who have fewer child care options due to cost. Availability, however, is another major looming issue.

All three of the aforementioned providers are currently at capacity, and each has a lengthy waitlist. According to President/CEO John Hall and Workforce Development Coordinator Kyle Hall of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, this is a common refrain they’re hearing throughout the community.

“We know (child care) is a barrier for, not only entrance of folks into the workforce but, even if you are in the workforce, child care availability is a problem,” John Hall said.

Kyle Hall reached out to some daycare centers in the community and found that nearly all of them were at capacity with a waitlist, but in-home daycares generally had more availability.

With this information in tow, Kyle Hall aims to create a landing page on the chamber’s website showcasing the availability of in-home daycares and other child care facilities and — hopefully — simplifying the process for parents.

“Creating that type of landing page could be beneficial for the entire community, because now they have one place that they can go and they can find the centers. They can find the in-home daycares,” Kyle Hall said. “It becomes one universal landing page for all the community to be able to find available openings.”

The project is still in the development phase, but Kyle and John hope to launch the page sometime in the middle of next week at the link www.marshalltown.org/childcare.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or



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