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'Child care deserts' impacting families in Newton and Jasper counties

A Right Steps child care center in Goodland opened its doors about two weeks ago. But parts of Jasper and Newton counties are still considered child care deserts.

Posted: Oct 27, 2020 5:24 PM
Updated: Oct 28, 2020 10:51 AM

Newton and Jasper Counties, Ind. (WLFI) - A Right Steps child care center in Goodland opened its doors about two weeks ago.

But parts of Jasper and Newton counties are still considered child care deserts.

"There has been a need for quite a while, I definitely agree with that," says Tiffany Stigers, head start director for Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission, which operates four head start facilities in Jasper and Newton counties.

Stigers says nearly 3,000 children under the age of five live in the two counties.

"There are definitely a lot of children not being served or going to a child care or preschool in those counties," she says. 

Families have just six licensed child care centers to choose from, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration

That could deter sought-after workers from taking root in the area, says Brienne Hooker, executive director of the Jasper Newton Foundation.

"School systems and education that are available are the first thing that families look for, besides a job, when they move here," she says. "We have a lot of manufacturing in this end of the county and they're hiring all the time."

Right Steps President and CEO Debi DeBruyn says the shortage is so bad Newton County government invested $375,000 in the Goodland center.

"Quite frankly, it's very unusual that county government will be that committed to child development and early learning in a community," she says. 

Jasper County is projected to add 434 more children under the age of five in the next five years, according to Early Learning Indiana.

"This is not enough," Hooker says. "We anticipate expanding. We're going to have to expand."

To keep up with population growth, Right Steps hopes to add more spots in 2021  with a new Rensselaer location.

Local businesses, non-profits and people living in Goodland partnered beginning in 2018 to add the child care center. It's grand opening and ribbon cutting was earlier this month.

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