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Child-care big plus for area

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Todd Mizener

Child-care is a growing industry in the Quad-Cities. Just Kids Child Care administrative assistant Kathy Bennett helps out in one of the classrooms by assisting 2-year-old Maria Skelton string a play necklace. The Milan day-care center recently completed a large expansion of its building.

Companies and people thinking about moving to the Quad-Cities have been delighted about child-care availability statistics, according to Mary Jo Huddleston, director of the Community Child Care Resource and Referral Center in Davenport.

For example, an average of 259 child-care slots per thousand children up to 5 years old in Rock Island County is above the state of Illinois' 239 per-thousand-student average, she said.

``It has a tremendous impact on economic development,'' Ms. Huddleston said. ``More and more, we are finding companies thinking about relocating to the Quad-Cities calling to get information about the supply and demand for child care.

``It is one of the things employees are most concerned about, and it has a tremendous impact for companies looking to expand, either generally, or by adding a second shift,'' she said. ``It is terribly important to service-oriented companies working non-traditional or weekend and evening shifts.''

More than 160 child-care centers in Rock Island and Scott Counties have the capacity to care for about 8,100 children. Vacancies exist for about 2,190 students at the centers.

Child care provided in more than 380 family homes in the bi-county area can care for about 2,300 children and vacancies of about 560.

Overall, 10,390 children could be cared for at 553 centers or family homes. Slots still available are 2,753, according to statistics reported by Ms. Huddleston.

``We know there's some very good child care available,'' she said. ``But we don't know if those vacancies will suit specific families. Are they in the right geographical area? Are they in the right ages of children? Is care provided during the hours required? And can parents afford it?

``That's all up to the parents,'' Ms. Huddleston said. ``It's the parents responsibility to look at all the options and make a good choice, making sure it's safe and of high quality.''

One sign that high-quality child care is available in the Quad-Cities can be seen by how many providers are active in a variety of professional associations, she said.

For example, many belong to the Quad-Cities Association for the Education of Young Children. Other local day-care providers have active roles in groups such as the Iowa Child Care Coalition and Illinois' Day Care Action Council.

Memberships in such associations provide day-care providers with valuable support and training.

``I also like to brag about the staff here,' Ms. Huddleston said of her referral agency. ``We have tremendous resources available to people.

For example, a ``healthy child'' component available on the Iowa side has linked health- and child-care providers closely together, she said. In Illinois, additional grant money has made it possible to offer increased and enhanced training opportunities.

Three other agencies have supported child care for families who don't qualify for federal assistance. The United Way, Doris and Victor Day Foundation and Scott County Regional Authority have funded a Vendor Voucher Program for needy families.

``It's a real plus for people to look at,'' she said. ``Here's a community that recognizes the need of low-income families who are just above the criteria for federal money.''

About $67,000 was donated to the voucher program this year, up from about $45,000 two years ago, Ms. Huddleston said. More donors would help raise enough money to increase the number of parents who could be helped.

``The Quad-Cities has done a good job of creating collaborations that allow us more flexibility to serve people,'' Ms. Huddleston said. Such collaboration, she said, has renewed and strengthened the entire child-care community.

-- By Leon Lagerstam (February 9, 1998)

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