The Childcare Crisis :: Marathon County’s Collaborative Approach to Tackling Local Challenges

Written by Noor Hassan

Marathon County is one of 28 teams that will receive $75,000 under the Dream Up! Grant to develop a strategic plan to address ongoing childcare challenges facing the county. The grant is administered by First Children’s Finance and supported by Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families (DCF).

(Source: Geographic Access to Child Care in Wisconsin, UW-Applied Population Lab)

Over the past several years, Marathon County lost more than half of its regulated childcare programs, resulting in half of the county being considered a “childcare desert”. Simply put, the demand for childcare far outweighs the supply. Marathon County is not unique to this problem. The rest of the state and the nation is grappling with childcare shortages while facing increasing childcare costs and a dwindling childcare workforce. Childcare, particularly infant care, takes up a huge portion of daily costs for many families and exceeds other essential expenses such as rent, food, and even in-state college tuition. However, high childcare costs do not translate to high wages for childcare workers. A childcare educator makes on average $13 per hour or $2,000 per year less than the national average for all workers. Unlivable wages ultimately lead many childcare workers and educators to leave the field, limiting available childcare choices to families.

Childcare is essential for financial growth and economic development. High quality childcare provides a safe environment for children to thrive, all the while providing parents with the security that their children are safe as they pursue their careers. Ultimately, parents need flexibility when it comes to childcare options and choices.

Marathon_County_Administrator_Lance_Leonhard“As a parent of young children, I still remember the stress that came with childcare uncertainty.  And, as an employer, I have witnessed first-hand the impacts of this crisis-level childcare shortage on our employees and their families,” said County Administrator Lance Leonhard.

Liz BrodekLiz Brodek, Development Director at the City of Wausau shared a similar sentiment, noting

“personally, I’m watching my brother and sister-in-law navigate the childcare system in Madison with twin 8-month-olds. Because they were not able to get both girls into the same provider, they hired a nanny. My parents also moved from Racine, WI, to Middleton to be closer to my brother’s family and assist with various childcare duties. So, when we talk about the childcare ecosystem, it goes beyond parents and providers – extended families are making location choices, and impacting the growth or decline of an area, to fill in gaps in childcare.”

Lack of access to childcare affects every facet of the economy, from large firms to small Main Street businesses, and everyone feels the effects. Affordable, accessible, reliable high-quality childcare is necessary for a thriving work force and high labor participation.

“Coming from a small business support background, I think of the very small, truly mom-and-pop stores that would not be able to open or operate if the owners did not have reliable, affordable childcare. Think of all the local retail stores, restaurants, bars, cafes, and others that would not exist if the owners did not have childcare. I think of the entrepreneurialism that is unintentionally stifled because parents and caregivers who need this care cannot afford or find it,” said Liz Brodek.

The Dream Up! Grant provides a unique opportunity to build the childcare supply in Marathon County through leveraging community collaboration. Marathon County partnered with representatives from the City of Wausau, school districts, Childcaring, North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, NTC, WIPPS, Early Years Coalition, United Way, Hmong American Center, YMCA, WUCMAA, Wausau Child Care, and others, to create a diverse team that will evaluate the current childcare landscape and develop a sustainable plan to build the childcare supply in the County.

Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Secretary Emilie Amundson speaks to community stakeholders during a roundtable discussion held at the Marathon County Courthouse in recognition of regional Project Growth grant recipients. (Photo courtesy of Marathon County Government.)

“This type of complex, inter-system challenge cannot be solved by one sector or one solution alone. This requires a comprehensive and collaborative community effort. The groups that have come together to undertake this challenge represent a broad base of community partnerships and allow input to be gathered from a broad spectrum of citizens in our region. Each person and organization bring a necessary perspective on this issue, and, importantly, remains open and curious about the problem and potential solutions. Our Core Team is more than ready to take on this challenge.” said Liz Brodek.

The Core Team is on its way to set priorities, goals, and action plans to improve access to affordable, reliable, high-quality childcare in Marathon County.

Noor Ali HassanNoor Hassan

Public Health Media Specialist | Marathon County Health Department

Noor Hassan joined Marathon County Government team as a Special Projects Coordinator in January 2022. In this role, Noor had the unique opportunity to work on projects such as broadband expansion, the affordability and availability of childcare services, and other larger initiatives identified in the County’s Strategic Plan. In May 2022, she began a new role as a Public Health Media Specialist, focusing on leading the public relations efforts of the Marathon County Health Department. Noor recently graduated with her master’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration in Healthcare Management and Policy. When not at work, Noor enjoys writing poetry, reading and traveling. Email Noor Hassan.

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