Six counties in Southern Indiana are working together to better understand the supply and demand of childcare within the region. The Southern Indiana Gateway (SIG) region, comprised of Crawford, Dubois, Orange, Perry, Pike, and Spencer counties, earned its official designation as a 21st Century Talent Region in June 2021. A state initiative, the 21st Century Talent Regions program encourages self-defined geographic regions to build and implement a plan to increase educational attainment, raise household income, and grow population.
Members of SIG, which include each county’s respective chamber of commerce and local economic development organization, have determined that better understanding the regional childcare landscape in terms of meeting the needs of working parents is foundational to achieving the goals of the 21st Century Talent Regions program. To do this, the region is partnering with Transform Consulting Group (TCG), a data- informed, strategic consulting firm with extensive experience in the early learning sector, to collect accurate, up-to-date information on the number and types of child care seats available within each county, including the hours in which the seats are available, the quality of the seats, the cost of care, and the length of waiting lists.
Lack of access to childcare is becoming increasingly recognized as a critical issue impacting workforce participation and talent attraction, especially in rural communities which are often extremely underserved in terms of options for licensed care. Early Learning Indiana’s Closing the Gap Report recently estimated that “existing capacity across all programs can serve just over half of all the population of children aged 0 to 5 who may be in need of care” and that rural counties are more likely to have inadequate access. This lack of access comes with a big price tag – a report published by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute in 2018 estimated that Indiana lost nearly $1.1 billion in annual economic activity due to child care related absenteeism and turnover. Considering the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the childcare sector, the number of programs that closed indefinitely due to the pandemic and the current childcare workforce shortage, the negative economic impact of lack of access has almost certainly increased.
“From an economic development perspective, it is critical to understand supply in terms of how many seats actually meet the needs of working parents,” said Erin Emerson, Perry County Development Corporation Executive Director. “Lack of access to childcare is negatively impacting the daily lives and decisions of residents in our region and the productivity and bottom lines of local businesses as well as severely limiting our region’s growth potential. Local parents have shared that accessibility concerns are impacting their participation in the workforce and their decisions about family size or whether to stay in our community or to relocate.”
With the project officially underway, members of SIG and TCG will be focusing on gathering quantitative data through provider outreach over the next couple of months. The final report, which will also include benchmarking research on successful strategies, data on national and regional trends, and information on the multigenerational impact of high-quality early childhood education, is slated to be published in July. For more information, please feel free to reach out to your respective county’s SIG contact.