Policy makers and business leaders across the state refer to scarce child care options as a crisis and it’s no different on the Twin Harbors, with far reaching economic and social implications.
A recent report published by the Association of Washington Business found the lack of available child care costs businesses more than $2 billion a year.
Child care costs vary by provider and child age group. Statewide, the annual cost of infant care varies from $11,000-$15,000, according to the organization Child Care Aware of America. An average single parent in Washington pays more than 50% of their income for center-based infant care.
Locally, based on a check with one licensed provider, full-day infant care five days a week costs more than $10,000 per year. The daily cost for toddlers age 12-30 months is around $40, preschool age 30 months to kindergarten $35 a day. Afterschool care for school-age children costs around $30 a day.
One parent of three said she would be looking at $1,000-$1,200 monthly for day care, about the same as her mortgage payment.
The state Department of Children, Youth and Families offers several state and federally funded child care subsidy programs. A local parent who qualifies for a subsidy said her monthly copay is $65. More information on these programs can be found online at dcyf.wa.gov/.
Maybe you don’t have children, or have grown children, and wonder how such a crisis may impact you. Josh Martin, CEO of Summit Pacific Medical Center, has a prime example.
Martin found an extremely qualified candidate for a specialized position at Summit Pacific in Elma, and she accepted the position and was about to relocate to the area to fill an important cog in the local health care machine.
“She was just short of basically starting her job when she gave notice that she resigned before she even started,” specifically because she couldn’t find local child care, said Martin.
That’s one example of lack of child care’s impacts beyond the immediate family seeking it. There are many others: Because child care costs and availability makes staying at home the more economically feasible option, some parents decide to stay at home rather than enter the workforce — at a cost to the local workforce and again making it more difficult for employers to find quality workers from the local pool.
Retention is an issue, as lack of child care options can leave some employees calling in sick or just deciding to quit because there are no options to watch their children. This negatively impacts the employees who want to work, and forces employers to work even harder to fill the voids they leave.
Talk to parents, employers and other impacted groups and most will tell you: the child care on Grays Harbor County is very high quality, there just isn’t enough of it to fill the growing demand.
Now considered a statewide child care crisis, the Legislature in 2018 created the Child Care Collaborative Task Force, and directed it to study and develop a strategy to “achieve the goal of access to affordable, high-quality child care for all Washington families by 2025.”
Selected for the task force was Dru Garson, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor Inc.
“For us in Grays Harbor, being able to find child care within the community can sometimes be difficult,” said Garson. “I think there’s a retention issue here in the county. If it’s difficult to find child care it can also be difficult to recruit employees.”
Garson has seen examples of this firsthand, saying there’s an individual on the Greater Grays Harbor board with a young child and one spouse staying at home “who really should be in the workforce,” but the cost of child care compared to wages make it more sensible to stay at home.
“We’ve got affordability and accessibility issues,” said Garson. “If we could resolve some of this it would be a great outcome for all of us.”
Martin relayed a story about an Elma child care facility that had to close its doors because of stringent regulations and the difficulty of providing care while remaining profitable.
That facility “gave two weeks notice they were closing, and having done some research I found they were unable to keep the doors open because the cost has gone up while reimbursements have not, and the requirements the state puts on these facilities are pretty strenuous,” said Martin. One Summit Pacific employee had trouble finding care for her daughter and newborn and “it ended up impacting her ability to get to work on time.”
“Another one of my employees lives in Montesano and now has to drive to Hoquiam to drop off her child, and then drive all the way back to Elma for her shift,” said Martin.
Erin Jeffreys, while manager of Shoppes at Riverside and as a mother of young children herself, saw the impact of lack of child care options from both ends of the spectrum.
“It affected me when I went back to work seven months ago, trying to find child care,” she said. “I had to bring my child to work with me for about two weeks before I could find child care. There aren’t many options out there,” and there are few jobs where bringing a child to work with you is a viable option.
Previously, Jeffreys had done hiring for the Xtreme Fun Center at the Shoppes at Riverside.
“Quite a few employees would call in sick because they had no child care,” she said. “Some had to quit because it was more expensive for them to pay for child care” than to stay at home with the child.
So what can be done? Martin said he believes Summit Pacific “has a responsibility to step outside its walls to be a leader in addressing child care.” He said the medical provider is working with legislators to “think about getting unique funding to create either new facilities or access funds to do some remodeling” of existing facilities, “to expand the number of child care slots here in our district.”
Garson said there are Early Learning Facility funds, known as ELF funds, that could be used “for capital projects to do construction for new facilities.” He said two entities locally have applied for this grant, and there is $17 million in available funds with a maximum award of $800,000 per grant — as related in a recent Daily World story, YMCA of Grays Harbor and the Joint Pacific County Housing Authority recently received grants from these funds.
The awards to Hoquiam and Pacific County buck the usual grant funding trend to a degree. Other local providers are also vying for attention in the highly competitive quest for grants, and it’s difficult in rural communities when urban projects, which may reach more people, tend to get priority in the grant application process.
“Hopefully, people are reviewing the grant applications to make sure we’re ensuring a good geographic representation of the distribution of those funds,” said Garson. “It’s really easy in an urban location to go after products that results in slots for more people, but within our county it’s equally important to open up another 20-40 slots.”
Reimbursement rates that more accurately reflect the cost of child care would also help keep more facilities open. To that end, State Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, recently introduced the Fair Start for Kids Act, HB 2661, designed in part to reduce child care copays.
“Child care is more expensive than college. It’s costing our kids. It’s costing our families. And it’s costing our businesses,” she said. “Too few kids are ready for kindergarten, parents are missing work, child care providers are struggling to make ends meet and child care businesses are closing across the state.”
The bill is co-sponsored by local legislators Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and is described in a statement by Washington House Democrats as “a multi-faceted approach to solving the child care crisis that aims to make the child care more accessible and affordable, bolster the child care workforce and supply, and provide parents with more resources as they raise young children.”
This is the first of a three-part series on the region’s child care crisis. Part two is personal stories from local residents describing their own challenges juggling work with child care. Part three will center on providers.