The Kosciusko County Child Care and Early Learning Coalition, now called LaunchPad, celebrated its first year anniversary Tuesday.

According to its website, LaunchPad is a coalition that “seeks to strengthen the climate of early learning in Kosciusko County by focusing on the most recent research for children, birth to age 5, and meeting the needs of our youngest citizens.”

“It’s a learning and early childhood coalition,” Sherry Searles, LaunchPad director, said.

LaunchPad was formed as a coalition between the Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Kosciusko County and Kosciusko County Community Foundation. It is housed in the chamber, Searles said. The coalition came after all three organizations kept hearing about the same problem – lack of child care availability.

Many counties in Indiana are starting to form early childhood coalitions to address the child care crisis, Searles said.

“We are short nearly 2,000 child care spots in Kosciusko County,” Searles said. “So we are considered a child care desert.”

There is one child care spot for every three children, Searles said. There are currently 3,000 children, birth to 5 years old, with 1,200 known child care spots in the county.

If someone comes to the community for a job, if the person doesn’t have a support system in place, the family will have a hard time finding a place for their child, said Rob Parker, president and CEO of the Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce. “And that’s why we call it a child care crisis.”

Currently, there are five child care centers in the county, 20 licensed home providers and approximately five registered ministry centers, Searles said.

However, a large portion of those registered child care providers are in ?Warsaw. Three licensed child care centers are in Warsaw, one is in Milford and one is in North Webster, according to Searles. There is one registered ministry in Syracuse and the rest are in Warsaw, with the 20 licensed home providers scattered throughout the county.

Currently, licensed home providers are only allowed to have 10 slots available for children, Searles said. With each infant that particular provider takes on, it actually lowers the amount of other children able to be taken as more time will be spent taking care of the infant.

For the past year, members of the LaunchPad coalition have been learning about the complex issues surrounding child care in the county, Searles said.

There has been three work groups within LaunchPad to specifically work on fundraising, building community will and creating child care partnerships, Searles said.

At its board meeting Wednesday, the LaunchPad board of directors plans to approve a strategic plan that the coalition will be able to act upon to help the “child care desert” in the county, Searles said.

There currently are short-term goals, as well a long-term ones.

“It’s going to take a long time,” she said. “This is long term. We are going to be here a long time working on the issue.”

“There’s so many issues we need to address with child care,” Parker said.

Currently, there are 38 counties in Indiana that have coalitions that are focusing on addressing child care, Searles said. However, not all of them are focusing on education, Searles said. She did say Kosciusko County is using the Muncie by5, out of Delaware County, as an example.

According to Muncie by5’s website, the nonprofit organization has five goals: educating the community about the importance of early childhood education, supporting families in the county, advocating for high-quality early learning environment, healthy children and supportive communities.

While Searles didn’t want to say what LaunchPad is planning before its strategic plan is approved, there are some things the coalition is looking to do.

The first thing is a partnership with Ivy Tech to offer early child care courses and degrees.

Currently, the state is requiring more and more to become a child care provider, Parker said. There is actually a shortage of child care providers. One of the reasons is because the pay is so low with usually no benefits. Sometimes, the pay can be as low as $8 to $9 an hour.

If someone finds a job with higher pay, they’re going to take it, Parker said.

A child development associate credential is the minimum requirement needed to be a child care provider, Searles said. However, if someone wants to have a higher position like a director of a center, that persons needs at least a bachelor’s degree.

The lack of child care slots in the county affects not only the county, but the state as well.

“This is an economic development issue,” said Parker.

Currently, Indiana loses $1.8 billion a year in productivity due to child care, Searles said.

“The world’s changed,” Parker said. The model of the mom saying at home and the father going out and being the bread winner is not the only model today, as more households are dual-income.

He said the availability of early child care affects the decision if a family with young kids is going to relocate to the county because it’s hard if the family doesn’t have a strong support system if they can’t find a child care slot. It’s even harder for a single-parent family.

Currently, a single-parent household spends approximately 46% of its income on child care with a price tag of $10,000 a year.

Parker said LaunchPad is looking to help businesses financially invest in child care in order to fill in the gap between what families are able to afford and what child care organizations are able to charge to keep open.

LaunchPad plans on increasing the child care spots available by 500 in five years, focusing on rural areas like Claypool and Silver Lake, Searles said. LaunchPad is not going to focus on any particular type of child care, as parents should be able to choose a type of childcare that works best for their family and that they’re comfortable with.

“Some parents are choosing to use grandparents or neighbors as their child care providers and that may be a great situation,” Searles said. “But in some cases, those types of care might not be the best setting. We need to ensure that children are in a high-quality environment and not just a ‘babysitter’ that uses a lot of screen time to occupy the children.

“At LaunchPad, we believe a high quality center is one that values children right where they are in their development, and encourages children to be actively involved in the construction of their meaning and knowledge. We believe that the relationship between the early childhood educator and the child is the most important factor in the child's development and that early childhood educators should have a deep understanding of a child's brain development,” Searles said.