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New task force looks to address childcare issues in Chippewa Valley

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 6:30 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Finding reliable and affordable childcare has long been a challenge for parents.

The pandemic made it even more difficult.

That’s why a new task force is looking for solutions to the childcare problem in the Chippewa Valley.

“Childcare is the bedrock of our economy. It is at least for the middle class,” said Angela Jones, a member of the task force.

She is also a UW-Eau Claire Assistant Professor of Special Education and Inclusive Practices.

As someone who spent her career studying childcare, Jones said the biggest issues are nothing new though the pandemic has made them worse.

The industry’s biggest problem is it lives on the private market despite its economic challenges.

“Centers can only charge so much for childcare, right, families can only afford to pay so much,” Jones said. “But when you think about childcare centers, the bulk of their expenses goes to facilities, insurance and wages. And we know that in childcare, that is one of the, if not the most, underpaid fields.”

She said despite the low pay, child care centers run on low profit margins. Since centers can’t charge or pay more, fewer people want to go into the field.

“It’s certainly not a money maker,” Jones said.

This, along with other factors, has led to a child care shortage.

That’s why United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley Executive Director Andy Neborak created the task force, which features stakeholders including business leaders and child care experts like Jones.

“Childcare is really a huge issue everywhere,” Neborak said. “And if families, for example, are not able to find child care for their children and it results in, you know, people leaving the workforce.”

He said he thought of the task force because he’s seen similar collaboration work to help solve other problems.

He added he does not expect members to come up with solutions overnight.

“It’s not something where we say in six months, ‘OK, yep, we’re done.’ You know, that’s really not how this looks. It’s going to be an ongoing issue,” Neborak said.

He said the task force, which had its first meeting last month, could stay active for years looking at incremental fixes.

Jones said one solution she’s looking at is increasing the number of home-based centers. They are daycares run out of people’s homes set up through proper, regulated channels.

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