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Childcare crisis focus of special meeting

 

November 13, 2019



Is the State of Washington trying to legislate parenting into obsolescence?

The question seemed to linger in the air at a meeting Nov. 5 to address the childcare crisis in Washington, specifically addressing the severe shortage of licensed childcare in Goldendale. The hope was to break down barriers to quality childcare—both for potential providers and families in need of services. Concerned citizens and community leaders met at Klickitat PUD.

Attendees included Johanna Roe with Gorge Early Learning; Klickitat County Commissioner Jim Sizemore; State Rep. Gina Mosbrucker; Lindsay Garcia of Klickitat County Human Resources; Rachel Hay and Melinda Taylor with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families; Ellen Perconti representing the Goldendale School District; Leslie Naramore of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WAGAP); Penny Andress of Klickitat Valley Health; Doug Miller of the Public Utility District; and Dana Peck representing the Greater Goldendale Chamber of Commerce.

Garcia was the first to speak. She told the group about a childcare survey the county recently completed. The survey had a total of 12 questions, including queries about family demographics and barriers faced when trying to access childcare. Of the 203 people who participated in the survey, 71 percent said they would utilize a licensed childcare if one was available.

Because of the significant shortage of childcare in in Washington, the cost of providing and accessing childcare is steadily increasing, pricing parents and providers out of the Market. Childcare Aware states that Washington ranked among the top five states with the least affordable childcare.

The largest barrier is the lack of licensed providers. This issue is aggravated by requirements put in place by the state that many feel are excessive, costly, and border on impossible. The Washington Administrative Code (WACs) pertaining to childcare facilities lists hundreds of requirements. WACs cover everything from necessary safety and education standards to the type of soil used in gardens. The state also requires caregivers to obtain extensive professional education, yet providers barely earn minimum wage. Given the low compensation rate for care givers, about $13.11 an hour, and the high cost of operating a care facility, many potential providers are priced out of operation in Washington.

Klickitat County, and specifically Goldendale, is particularly challenged because of the lack of available childcare—especially for infants. The requirements for caring for infants are even more complicated and restrictive. The situation is aggravated by the number of low-income families needing state subsidized childcare. Subsidized childcare is compensated at a lower rate and is not readily available in town.

Further complicating the matter, three potential providers complained that the Department of Children, Youth and Families division called Childcare Aware was nonresponsive, with complaints about the division transferring calls multiple times, not returning messages, and claiming not to service Klickitat County. Other providers reported having to wait more than two months for a fire marshal to inspect their facility.

Sizemore expressed concerns about retaining employees because of the lack of quality childcare. He stated that he is about to lose a valued employee because of this. Furthermore, the county will soon face a “silver tsunami” with 63 percent of the county workforce about to retire. Without reliable childcare, the county will not be able to hire and retain new, younger workers. Sizemore is exploring the possibility of Klickitat County supporting a childcare center by making a county building available after the new county building is built. “Do taxpayers think the county should provide childcare?” he asked. Although nothing can be guaranteed, he felt childcare would benefit both county employees and citizens and is worth discussing. He intends to ascertain the feasibility of such a project to determine costs and liabilities.

Mosbrucker expressed frustration with Gov. Jay Inslee. “This crisis in childcare does not just affect our area; there is a need all across the state,” she said. She believes the problem is partly due to burdensome regulation of requirements needed to become a licensed provider. She stated that legislation recently passed the House and Senate that would have streamlined the licensing process for daycares but was vetoed by Inslee. Another bill proposed to reduce the licensing process simply died.

Mosbrucker encouraged citizens to contact her office for assistance expediating response from Childcare Aware and/or other agencies and went on to offer to investigate funding for improvements such as sprinkler systems required for commercial facilities. She stated that scholarships are available to help with other costs as well.

Despite the roadblocks, some progress is being made. Leann Mell has recently been licensed as a childcare provider here in Goldendale. She opened a center at the Community Grace Brethren Church called Grace Kidz, an after-school care program for school aged kids which started accepting children for care on Nov. 1.

Taylor, a child care licensor, stated that she is able to walk potential providers through the licensing process. The process can take as long as 90 days but can be expedited.

Child Care Licensing Supervisor Hay suggested that providers be less concerned with their compensation, considering their services as a calling rather than a career. This attitude highlights the disconnect between potential providers, parents, and the state, according to many in the room. Providers are asked to contend with a daunting array of regulations, take on enormous liabilities, complete and maintain mountains of documentation, all while providing care for active children at a rate of pay that barely touches minimum wage. Meanwhile, childcare costs in Washington State are the fifth highest in the nation and are continuing to rise as more childcare providers are closing, unable to contend with the conditions imposed by the state. In the end, sunnarized one attendee, the children the state is seeking to protect are left without access to the affordable care they need.

Interested persons can learn how to become a licensed provider at dcyf.wa.gov/services/early-learning-providers, or through Child Care Aware of SW Washington at http://www.esd112.org/ece/child-care-aware, or you can call them at (360) 952-3358.

A follow-up meeting was suggested by Mosbrucker; however, a date has not been set yet.

 

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