The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

City's childcare 'desert' has few oases


March 15, 2017

Jess Macinko

PLAY TIME: Sharon Williams in the playroom of her house. Williams operates "Friends and More," Goldendale's only licensed daycare facility.

It may be little comfort to parents, but Goldendale might just escape the title of "childcare desert," depending on how you parse the term. As defined by the Center for American Progress, childcare deserts are ZIP codes "with at least 30 children under the age of five and either no child care centers or so few centers that there are more than three times as many children under age five as there are spaces in centers." The 2010 census pegged Goldendale's under five population at 230 (the U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 – 2015 estimate places that number closer to 360). Combined, Goldendale's two licensed childcare providers, Friends and More Family Childcare and the Mid-Columbia Children's Council (MCCC) Goldendale Center, have space for roughly 100 children.

Friends and More is the only licensed in-home childcare practice in Goldendale. Owner operator Sharon Williams has been providing childcare from her home since 1977. She doesn't keep a waiting list, and taking on new clients is largely a matter of finding space in a crowded and complex schedule.

"It's absolutely off the wall," Williams says, referencing a chart she uses to keep track. "I have children that come before school [and after]. I have ones that come on Mondays and Fridays-but Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday they go to Head Start (MCCC) in the morning and then come in the afternoon. I have ones that come two days a week, some that come three days a week."

As for why there aren't more providers, Williams believes low mean income is a factor. The average cost of childcare in Washington (and nationwide) is more than college tuition. At the same time, state child care assistance programs for low-income families have faced cuts and higher co-pays in recent years. According to Williams, that means licensed providers are unlikely to set up shop in places like Goldendale, because while their services are in demand, their rates would be too prohibitive for many potential clients.

Williams is aware of several unlicensed childcare practices in Goldendale. "That's not a negative," she says, recognizing that though the practices are illegal, they're filling an unmet need.

Located at 415 W. Main St., Friends and More is open five days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Services are by appointment only. To schedule, call (509) 773-4354.

Mid-Columbia Children's Council

Mid-Columbia Children's Council is an early-education organization with 13 centers in the Gorge area. The Goldendale center offers a preschool program, serving three- to five-year-olds four hours a day, three days a week, plus monthly home visits. There is also an Early Head Start program that serves pregnant moms through three-year-olds. The program comprises classes two days a week, plus two home visits per month.

The programs, funded through Head Start (federally funded) and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (funded by Washington state), are primarily geared toward low income families.

"There is a percentage we can take over income," says Traci Kessinger, area manager. But the focus is on serving the most needy. Aside from educational activities, the programs also provide children's health screenings-including vision, hearing and dental-and help parents connect with local resources, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC-a supplemental nutrition program) as well as employment programs. The center partners with the Goldendale School District to accommodate children with special needs. The center serves breakfast and lunch, and is part of the Backpack Program, which provides students a sack of snacks to take home once a week.

Both programs are currently full, with 56 children in the preschool program and 28 in Early Head Start. Kessinger says the center keeps a waitlist and is always taking applications, and that there is a fair amount of turnover with families moving into and out of the area. Since the beginning of this year, she estimates 10 new children were admitted to the program.

Kessinger agrees there's a lack of children's activities in the area, but also believes families may not know about or be fully utilizing existing services. She points to the pre-school program waitlist, which currently has only five kids. In contrast, the Early Head Start waitlist has 17.

Kessinger says now is the time to sign up for next year's programs. "It's really important to get applications in for next school year. There's usually someone here [at the center] five days a week." Interested parties should call (509) 774-1114.


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