In general, rural communities face serious shortages in health care workforce and more than 90 percent of all nurses and health care paraprofessionals, such as home health care aides, are women. Efforts to recruit and retain a health care workforce in rural areas tend to focus on individual-level initiatives, such as loan forgiveness and provider training, rather than on broader family and community issues like child care access.
In a new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found fewer than one-third of all children under the age of five living in rural Wisconsin counties had access to an available slot in a licensed child care facility (either center or family-based), compared to nearly half of children under the age of five living in urban and suburban Wisconsin counties.
The study appeared in the Journal of Community Health.
“Prior research has shown the availability of child care is positively associated with women entering the workforce,” said Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith, lead author and research associate at the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. “Given that women make up the majority of the health care workforce, increasing the availability of child care could make a difference in enticing women already living in rural areas to enter the health care workforce.”
Access to child care is important not only for children themselves, but also in the broader context of the health and vitality of rural communities, including the capacity to recruit and retain skilled professionals.
“Rural towns have many benefits and strengths for raising a family, but it’s hard to recruit professionals with young children without high quality child care options available,” said Dr. Katy Kozhimannil, co-author and associate professor at the School of Public Health. “[Our findings] are part of the broader conversation on work and family for American women and men.”