Child Care Shortage in North Central Iowa Only Set to Get Worse with Pork Plant Opening

EAGLE GROVE, Iowa -- The Prestage Farms Pork Processing Plant in Wright County is expecting to begin limited production next month and bring 1,000 new jobs by 2019, while also bringing more families to the area.

“There’s always been a struggle in Eagle Grove and surrounding towns, but probably even more so coming up,” Betty Weland, a local daycare provider, said.

Weland is in her 15th year working as an in-home daycare provider in Eagle Grove. She says since she’s started she’s been at her 12 child capacity set by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) and has to turn families away.

“For me, every time someone calls and you have to turn them down it’s sad because you know the other providers in Eagle Grove, we’re all in contact with each other, so we know no one else has openings,” Weland said.

Even centers are struggling according to Building Families, an early childhood area board for Hamilton, Humboldt, and Wright counties.

“Here in Webster City, at Riverview alone, there are 30 children already on the waiting list and Prestage hasn’t even opened up yet. So that’s just the natural state of things,” McKinley Bailey, the Executive Director of Building Families said.

With 1,000 new jobs set to be available at the new $240 million Prestage Foods Pork Processing Plant, they worry the demand is only going to get worse.

“The daycare center is often the second, first call you make,” Bailey said. “You tell your family that you’re pregnant, and then you’re trying to get on the waiting list.”

According to the Iowa Women’s Foundation, there is a shortfall of more than 350 thousand child care slots across the state. Bailey says some of the communities his board oversees are in the process of expanding centers, but it’s not enough.

“By enlarge we’re dependent on the State and local governments to make a commitment to this,” Bailey said. “Part of that is because the centers, the child care centers themselves, struggle to make ends meet and pay staff.”

Weland fears for what’s to come in the next few years with hundreds of school aged kids set to move to the area with their families. She says she’s seen couples try to get on wait lists even before they’ve conceived.

“I just worry about them not having anywhere to go and the parents struggling with trying to find a place. I know other providers that have parents traveling 30 minutes for one kid and another gets to stay in town. There’s a lot of struggle going on, and if they can even afford to keep working,” Weland said.

Building Families is trying to curb the shortage by encouraging people to start their own in-home day care center, like Weland’s. Go to buildingfamillies.net to get help opening your own daycare.