While Rock County is a good place to raise a family in terms of affordability, we do not have the same number of family recreation outlets or educational enrichment opportunities compared to other communities of our size. A children’s museum is essential for enhancing our quality of life, investing in our children, retaining local talent, and recruiting new faces to keep our community growing.
At present, caregivers regularly leave Rock County to drive to one of four children’s museums located within an hour’s drive. These options include: The Madison Children’s Museum (Madison, WI), Explore Children’s Museum (Sun Prairie, WI), Black Earth Children’s Museum (Black Earth, WI), and the Discovery Center (Rockford, IL). If there was a Rock County option to patronize, they would stay local. The average local visitor to the Children’s Museum of Rock County is expected to spend an additional $50 beyond the cost of admission in nearby restaurants and shops. With 76,800 visitors expected to be local, that translates into an annual economic impact of $3.84 million to our community (Statistics Prepared by the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau). Without a children’s museum in Rock County, those dollars will be spent elsewhere. And, those experiences will occur outside of our borders, making people wonder if Rock County should really be the choice for their family.
When looking at Rock County in terms of setting children up for life success, a children’s museum can be a fantastic tool. Rock County has the lowest percentage of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher (24.2% for ages 25+) and the lowest median income ($65,518) compared to its surrounding peer counties of Dane, Green, Jefferson, and Walworth (US Census Bureau, 2020). Rock County also has the highest proportion of people reporting four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) out of all 72 counties in the state (Community Health Assessment, Health Equity Alliance of Rock County, 2021). That means, 25% of our county’s population – an incredibly high percentage and the highest in the state – has experienced traumatic events during childhood from ages 0-17, the effects of which can last a lifetime and have a significant impact on life outcomes. Compared to someone with zero “yes” answers to the ACE questions, a person who answers “yes” four or more times is 6 times more likely to struggle with depression; 7 times more likely to become alcoholic; 10 times more likely to inject street drugs, and 12 times more likely to attempt suicide. They’re also twice as likely to have heart disease and twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer. The more “yes” answers a person has to the ACE questions, those odds increase exponentially. People with high ACE scores are also less likely to maintain relationships, collaborate at work, or hold a job. They’re also more likely to end up in foster care, homeless or in jail (“Impact of Childhood Trauma Reaches Rural Wisconsin,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 30, 2017).
When these data points are looked at in relation to one another, Rock County has a high incidence of trauma along with lower education levels and lower earnings. While a children’s museum cannot fix all these issues, providing a safe space that sparks interest, nurtures a love of life-long learning, and promotes strong child-caregiver relationships can have a deep effect on Rock County’s future.