Cole County uses a collaborative approach to help address the challenges of childcare access. 

The challenges of childcare access are not exclusive to Jefferson City. Childcare access
is a nationwide concern affecting thousands of families and businesses. But for families in Cole County, these issues are being addressed with the support of Missouri Childhood Community Leaders: South Central Region.


A gift from Nichols Career
Center students.

Over the past several years, these community leaders have increased awareness of childhood programs to prompt resources and communicate the region’s strengths and needs. When barriers to childcare access are discovered, community leaders work with stakeholders to find ways to remove them. Through this initiative, community leaders help their communities ensure that all children are safe, healthy, and successful learners. Stakeholders in Jefferson City consist of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce Workforce Coalition committee. This committee, led by Paula Benne, the president of C&S Employment Solutions, works with local businesses, schools, early childhood providers, the United Way of Central Missouri, and other residents to understand the multifaceted issues better.

To help learn more about some of these issues, a community needs assessment, fiscal mapping, cost modeling, and a stakeholder survey were conducted. Valuable insight and perspectives from childcare providers were also obtained by utilizing various data sources. The findings identified that parents in Cole County are genuinely concerned about the lack of infant and toddler care availability, daycare locations, affordability, and the prevalence of waiting lists. Understanding these sentiments is crucial in developing solutions that align with the community’s needs.

Parents are not the only ones who have concerns; employers likewise acknowledge the impact of childcare issues on their workforce.

“The cost and availability of child care impacts every employer, large and small,” says Gary Plummer, president and CEO of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why we are working closely with Missouri Childhood Community Leaders, the United Way, and other partners to build meaningful partnerships between the business community and childcare providers.”

“In the nearly two years that the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce Workforce Coalition has worked on local workforce issues, childcare has been a top priority for our employers,” Paula Benne adds. “We have gained valuable insights through these collaborations and feel we are positioned to make great strides in providing the assistance our childcare centers desperately need.”

As a result of the businesses’ desire to support child care in the area, the Chamber of Commerce reached out to Early Childhood Partners in Education and Missouri Childhood Community Leaders to encourage a collaboration between local businesses and childcare centers. Currently, eight businesses have partnered with providers and supplied them with business management resources, supplies, and appreciative gestures. 

“The Partners of Education program has been around for decades, but bringing it to early childhood centers shows community support and the importance of early childhood education,” says Theresa Verslues, vice president of United Way of Central Missouri and a member of the Childhood Community Leaders team. “This partnership speaks volumes to early childhood centers because they never had anyone ask what they needed or how they can help.” 

In addition to benefiting from connections with businesses, providers are also benefiting from a Child Care and Early Education Community Planning Opportunity Grant, received by Cole County in July 2023 from Kids Win Missouri, which supports the exploration of the childcare crisis. This grant worked to conduct a childcare and early education community needs assessment that helped identify gaps in the system. Some of these gaps include staff recruitment and retention, elevating the early childhood profession, increasing the number of early childhood programs, business and community support, and providing affordable and quality care for families. Using this information, stakeholders are developing a strategic plan that caters to the needs of parents, childcare providers, and employers.

For those interested in making a difference in this endeavor, please contact Shauna Kerperin, a community leader for the Missouri Childhood Community Leaders: South Central Region, at skerperin@blairoaks.org.