Child care crisis in our region

By Dr. Kareen Borders, Angela Jones, Susan Barbeau, Deeann Puffert

Affordable, quality child care is essential to Washington families, businesses and our economy. Child care plays a vital role in supporting the growth and development of our children and helps create and sustain small businesses, while providing essential services that allow our businesses and economy to thrive.

A newly released State of the Children report, developed by Washington STEM and Washington Communities for Children and supported by Child Care Aware of Washington, shines a light on the deepening crisis our child care systems.

“As a mom and as an educator, I know that early learning is so very important to students, families, and our communities,” said Kareen Borders, executive director of the West Sound STEM Network. “When we have strong supports in place for early learning and child care, there are lifelong benefits for a student throughout their education and career.”

The Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas region are home to 23,300 young children and their families, and of those children younger than 6 years old, 36% are living in poverty. These families face a host of child care challenges that impact the education of their children, the stability of their jobs and the overall strength of their communities.

“We must do more to alleviate child care burdens on families and child care businesses, without impacting the learning and development of our children. Access, availability, and cost, among other issues, weigh heavily on families and providers. The biggest barrier to these challenges is a lack of sustained funding for our early learning and child care

systems,” Washington STEM CEO Angela Jones said.

The devastating impacts of a child care system in crisis ripple throughout our communities. Some of the key findings of the State of the Children report for the Kitsap Peninsula and the surrounding region show the stark reality our businesses face as well. According to an Association of Washington Business survey conducted in 2019, employers in the region incur an

annual cost of approximately $93.9 million due to the lack of child care for employees. Roughly 2,900 workers with children under 6 quit their job due to child care issues, while about 1,400 workers with children under 6 were let go from their jobs due to child care issues.

“We were in a child care crisis before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only exacerbated centuries of glaring disparities in our system. Families need access to quality child care in order to be in the workforce. If we care about the economy, we have to care about child care. They are intrinsically connected,” said Susan Barbeau, First 5 Fundamentals executive director, which staffs Washington Communities for Children.

Child care costs are unaffordable for most families in the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. Families with one child in child care who make the median income in our region, $65,190, may have to spend up to 16% of their income on child care. According to the Washington Department of Commerce, child care should cost no more than 7% of a family’s income. For

families who make less than the median income, the costs of child care are even further from reach.

“Currently, many families simply can’t afford the cost of licensed care,” said Deeann Puffert, CEO of Child Care Aware of Washington. “For example, in Kitsap County, a parent with a preschool child who receives a 50 cent an hour raise would result in them becoming ineligible for a state subsidy. This slight increase in wages could dramatically increase out of pocket expenses by $700 per month.”

It’s clear that our child care systems are in crisis and are in immediate need of support. With every day that passes without meaningful changes to these systems, children, families and businesses will continue to struggle in ways that are seen and unseen. There are a great many community-based groups that are helping to solve this challenge, such as Educational Service District Early Learning Departments, local schools, library systems and many more. But they can’t do it alone.

The state Legislature is currently considering the Fair Start for Kids Act (HB 1213/SB 5237), which would help support our child care systems and provide much-needed relief for our communities.