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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Angela Jones, Susan Barbeau and Deeann Puffert: New report series illuminates child care crisis in Eastern Washington

By Angela Jones, Susan Barbeau and Deeann Puffert Washington STEM

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, while providing essential services that allow our businesses and economy to thrive. A newly released report developed by Washington STEM and Washington Communities for Children, and supported by Child Care Aware of Washington, highlights the ongoing and deepening crisis our child care systems face.

Spokane and the surrounding region are home to 46,000 young children and their families, and of those children younger than 6 years old, 50% 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. Among those challenges, access, affordability and availability of reliable, licensed child care is a real problem.

“Access to reliable child care is a major barrier for families. Only 34% of working families with children under 6 in Spokane and the surrounding area have access to a seat with a licensed provider. There’s simply not enough capacity to meet the community’s needs. The truth is, even if every family wanted licensed child care, and could afford it, there’s simply not enough seats to accommodate the families in our communities,” 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 Spokane 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 our region incur an annual cost of approximately $178 million due to the lack of child care for employees. Roughly 5,500 workers with children under 6 quit their job due to child care issues, while about 2,800 workers with children under 6 were let go from their jobs due to child care issues.

“The child care crisis is disproportionately affecting women. One out of four women who became unemployed during the pandemic said it was because of a lack of child care. This is something that requires our attention. The long-term and negative impacts of gender inequity affect not only women and children, but the economic growth of our state and country as a whole,” said Susan Barbeau, First 5 Fundamentals Executive Director, which staffs Washington Communities for Children.

To add to these mounting problems, child care costs are unaffordable for most families in the eastern region of Washington. Families with two children in child care who make the median income in our region, $71,000, may have to spend up to 34% of their income on child care. According to the Washington State 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. And, child care providers can’t meet regulatory requirements and offer quality care at a cost that most families can afford. Providing high quality care at an affordable price point is impossible without deeper investment in supporting the child care market,” Child Care Aware of Washington CEO Deeann Puffert said.

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 NEWESD 101, Community Minded Enterprises, the Spokane STEM Network, Spokane County Library District, and so many more. But they can’t do it alone.

The Washington state Legislature is considering legislation, 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.

Washington STEM is a statewide, education nonprofit leveraging STEM for social change, removing barriers to credential attainment, and creating pathways to long-term economic security for systemically underserved students.