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Lick-And-Promise Response Won’t Do

Thu., March 12, 1998, midnight

Child care is like home maintenance. If it’s not done well, everybody suffers.

It isn’t until the roof begins to leak, the sewer backs up or the appliances start to self-combust that everyone suddenly notices what’s not getting done.

Similarly, the fact that day-care centers are closing, family day-care providers are refusing to accept kids on state subsidies and many former welfare recipients are turning to informal, unlicensed care can escape a community’s attention.

Until tragedy strikes.

Now’s the time to start creatively brainstorming solutions to child-care problems in Spokane. When it comes to children’s safety, none of us can afford to wait until the roof caves in.

The Washington Legislature is about to adjourn without increasing state day-care subsidies for parents who’ve recently found jobs under the welfare-to-work program. The Department of Social and Health Services may wind up with a budget surplus, but even in these economic boom times, there are no guarantees about how the money will be spent.

Meanwhile, the people of Spokane are the ones with the greatest stake in the well-being of our community’s children.

Currently, state child-care subsidies fall under Spokane’s market rate. For a 3-year-old in family care in north Spokane, for example, the state’s monthly payment is $309, while the going rate is closer to $375. Licensed child-care providers can’t make a profit at those prices. As they close their doors, WorkFirst participants are left choosing informal, unlicensed care. That may range from the wonderful grandparent next door to the violent boyfriend who shakes babies when they cry.

It’s up to the community to search for creative ways to ensure that all children receive safe, nurturing and competent care. The Health Improvement Partnership has set a fine example in Spokane. Working with Head Start programs, local community centers and the state, HIP has helped design new child-care programs to complement half-day Head Start classes at community centers.

Other clever solutions, given the energy and drive of the community, can similarly be devised.

Perhaps a particular agency will step up to pay the difference between the subsidies and the market rate. Perhaps business groups could provide matching funds. Other groups might want to lobby DSHS for higher child-care payments or rewrite rules that base Spokane child-care payments on rates in neighboring and more economically depressed counties.

Solutions exist. For the sake of Spokane’s kids, the community should find them.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jamie Tobias Neely/For the editorial board


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