Regional leaders got together this past week to discuss early childhood education, but the discussion appeared to miss the biggest issue facing northeast Indiana — a shortage of child care available to families.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership convened its 2019 Early Learning Summit on Thursday at Purdue Fort Wayne, bringing together political leaders, economic development gurus and private businesses to discuss early childhood learning as a workforce issue.

This is an important and timely topic to discuss.

According to the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee, approximately 65% of all families in Indiana need child care in some capacity, because parents in the home are working.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally, about 63% of married households have both parents working. Mothers with children under 6 years old work at a rate of 65%, while those with children over 6 work at a rate of about 74%.

At Thursday’s summit, a Parkview pediatrician spoke about brain development and the importance of early education to shape future learners and workers. Then a business owner talked about some of the ways his company has helped accommodate workers with child care needs. Then a panel of experts talked about how early learning impacts business.

Those are all fine and good, but the summit didn’t include any conversation about what’s probably the biggest issue on this topic — families struggle to find child care or preschool at all because there is an low supply and high demand.

Child care is a workforce issue. Wages are such in northeast Indiana that, in many cases, both parents need to work to make ends meet and have a good quality of life in a household with one or more children. Therefore, while Mom and Dad are at the office or the factory or wherever, someone needs to watch Junior.

The problem is, there aren’t enough places available to do that.

A few months ago, news that Angola’s largest daycare center might shut down sent parents into a panic. The center ultimately made arrangements and stays open, but the scare was enough to bring the issue to the forefront.

Democratic Mayor Dick Hickman and his Republican challenger Joe Hysong both made child care a main issue of their campaigns in the aftermath.

“It’s a problem in all of northeast Indiana,” Hickman said in an Oct. 17 debate. “We just had a meeting today, the second we’ve had, including (Trine University) and the hospital, the community foundation, private sector and the economic development corporation reaching out to units on what they’re doing and finding.

“It’s a tough one,” Hickman continued to say. “It will be a long haul to take care of and we are going to be in it for the long haul.”

Northeast Indiana is on its Road to One Million campaign to try to raise the population to 1 million residents by 2030. A key component of the plan to make that happen is to attract and retain young people to the region.

If you want young people, you need available child care. Northeast Indiana doesn’t have it. That’s a problem.

Talking about the benefits of early education and discussing how employers can be more flexible with workers is fine, but that’s not the No. 1 issue.

Figuring out ways to boost the supply of child care in northeast Indiana, that’s what our leaders should be discussing.

We encourage our regional leaders to make that a focus of future conversations on the topic.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

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