JASPER, IN – The Southern Indiana Gateway (SIG) Region, comprising seven counties including Crawford, Dubois, Knox, Orange, Perry, Pike, and Spencer has joined forces to tackle a pressing workforce issue – childcare.  The SIG Region is designated as one of Indiana’s 21st Century Talent Regions, which is committed to attracting, developing, and connecting talent across the state.

Recognizing the urgent need for child-care solutions, SIG Region took a regional lead by hiring Transform Consulting to assess the situation.  The research revealed alarming statistics: a labor force participation rate of 72.3% among adults with young children in the SIG counties, with a staggering 1,700 parents currently unemployed due to shortages in child-care capacity.  An astonishing 875 children are on waiting lists for child-care facilities, and the region would need to increase full-time child-care seats by a significant percentage to accommodate these families.

Additionally, the data uncovered a critical gap between what parents can afford and the actual cost of child care, leaving many providers with slim profit margins and even budget deficits.  Child-care professionals earn significantly less than K-8 educators, making it increasingly difficult for parents working in child-care facilities to afford child care for their own children.

The SIG Region is not alone in facing these challenges, as these child-care concerns resonate across Indiana.  Before the pandemic, childcare-related workforce absences and turnover were costing Indiana businesses a staggering $1.8 billion annually.  Child care, housing, and transportation have consistently emerged as heightened workforce challenges in recent years.

Furthermore, the childcare business model in Indiana is perceived as broken and may even constitute a market failure.  However, there is hope on the horizon as the state and lawmakers are actively working to address these child-care issues.  Senate Bill 36, the Early Educators Apprenticeship Act, has been introduced to support apprenticeships in early education.

To bridge these challenges and streamline regulations, SIG Region recommends a series of actions:

  1. Automatically enroll child-care workers in the voucher program to help them pay for child care, encouraging more individuals to enter the child-care workforce.
  2. Allow teachers to work in classrooms under supervision while awaiting documentation for required testing and training, streamlining the process.
  3. Introduce flexibility in children’s movement from one class to the next, enhancing the adaptability of child-care facilities.
  4. Provide free background checks to child-care providers, reducing financial burdens on small providers.
  5. Enable the portability of background checks and consent forms, simplifying the process and reducing duplication.
  6. Offer affordable virtual continuing education classes to reduce costs for child-care facilities and parents.
  7. Allow flexibility in food program regulations for substitutions and dietary needs while transitioning to electronic record-keeping.
  8. Permit microsites where employers can collaborate with child-care providers to operate child care facilities under a shared license.
  9. Streamline the voucher program process to make it more accessible for parents seeking employment.
  10. Emphasize problem-solving over enforcement, enabling child-care providers to focus on the well-being of children and high-quality early learning.

The SIG Region, together with Indiana state lawmakers, is dedicated to ensuring that parents have access to quality, affordable child care, and that child-care professionals are supported in their critical work.  The SIG Region is also exploring innovative funding models, such as the Kentucky program, where the state, employers, and families share the cost of child care.

These recommendations and collaborative efforts aim to address the child-care crisis, improve child-care worker conditions, and create a more supportive environment for families in the SIG Region and beyond.