Meet Them Where They Are: Identifying and Addressing Gaps in Child Care


  • Kentucky: Lesa Dennis, Deputy Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Community Based Services
  • Iowa: Liesl Seabert, Rural Community Revitalization Program Manager, Iowa Economic Development Authority



79 of Kentucky’s 120 counties (66%) are considered  child care deserts, where there are more than 3 children per available child care slot

In response, KY’s Department of Community Based Services, Division of Child Care (DCC) established grant programs to improve supply in rural areas and child care deserts:

  • Child Care Desert Areas Matching Funds Grant – Provides matching funds up to 100%, to increase supply in rural areas (11 active grantees)
    • DCC is utilizing ARPA for start-up grants in counties experiencing child care deserts, and anticipates ~30 awards or until funds run out
  • Family Child Care Startup Grant: One-time grants available up to $2500 to assist in covering start-up licensing fees and purchases of items needed to establish a family regulated child care home (14 active grantees)
  • Business Partnership Grant Opportunities: helps support employers to provide their own child care services to their workforce (3 active grantees)


The Rural Child Care Market Study Grant program (RCCMSGP) supports rural communities in determining the specific child care needs, and provides resources for planning

  • Iowa set specific thresholds for community eligibility to disqualify suburbs and focus on rural populations with the most need.  
  • 7 grant recipients during FY22 totaled $70,000 in funding.

This genesis of this program represents a multi-agency approach: first conceived through conversations with Governor Reynolds’ staff, the Iowa Department of Management, Department of Human Services, Iowa State University, & a private sector partner, First Children’s Finance

  • Collaboratively brainstormed how the program would continue on after initial funding ends so that grantees (city governments and nonprofits) are better positioned to embark and build on next steps with their own investments

Iowa modeled the RCCMSGP after another successful program (grants for renovation/construction for child care facilities) and housed the program within the Center for Rural Revitalization, in the Iowa Economic Development Authority

Key Takeaways

Sustainability is top of mind:

  • In Iowa, communities found that current state resources and grant offerings weren’t actually addressing their underlying child care challenges, so market survey were employed to empower communities to investigate, instead of applying band-aid fixes
  • No ARPA $$ support the RCCMSGP—Gov. Reynolds lobbied the legislature for state funds so that this funding can continue even after time-limited federal funds sunsets
  • Kentucky prioritized bringing new providers on-line in child care deserts, without sacrificing current child care providers:
    • KY has been piloting programs to perform research on capacity of current providers, and receives constant feedback from stakeholders to ensure constant improvement

Tailoring solutions to specific communities helps to address the unique needs of different economic landscapes:

  • Grant applications in Kentucky require prospective grantees to submit a business plan, including an environmental scan, so that the state can receive input from current providers on the child care landscape from the provider prospective
  • In Iowa, market studies not only provided analysis of the economic landscape in communities, but also proved valuable as leverage with the business community to earn buy-in.
    • Small committees performed the market study, shared results with local private businesses, who were more willing to partner on investments which could be leveraged for more grant funding from the state.
    • Iowa has also started to layer in a business incentive grant program, to encourage private businesses to offer more child care services to their employees.