New Spokane Alliance member tackling child care

COVID-19 has peeled back a veneer of normalcy that the status quo had blanketed over our broken systems. When presented with public health and economic challenges, many of our institutions were exposed for their precarious nature: unemployment benefits, healthcare, supply chains, schools, and others revealed how decades of underinvestment left them unable to withstand adversity.

Child care was similarly undervalued and thus underfunded as a public service responsible for educating our future generations. In Washington state, parents faced some of the largest barriers in the country in terms of accessing and affording child care before the onset of the pandemic (cost of care for infants can be $16K, 3rd most expensive state in the country). When economic shutdowns began, this system pushed many families out to fend for themselves, despite the tireless efforts of dedicated individuals within it. 

New Spokane Alliance member Parkview Early Learning Center (PELC) was no exception. Located on Division street, their child care facility serves an already marginalized population: 72% of their children are involved in Child Protection Services, and 96% qualify for free or reduced lunch. Many of their clients initially lost work due to the shutdown and had to withdraw from enrollment due to the loss of income. PELC never shutdown besides a one week break to deep clean, but even this gap in child care left two clients fired from their place of work when they were unable to find alternative forms of care. 

Kathryn Garras, PELC Advocacy Coordinator, has seen the shortfalls of child care alongside cases where child care executes as it should. In a recent interview with Spokane Alliance, she described the case of an overstimulated, nonverbal child. Typical child care facilities are not equipped to offer supplemental services, but PELC has robust wrap-around services including a partnership with Northeast Youth and Family Services. Services include behavioral, speech, occupational, and physical therapy. These services led to a fairly common moment of joy for Kathryn when the child’s mother called to share: “I just had a conversation with my son for the first time.” These moments are what Kathryn wishes people would realize are fundamental to early child care: “There is a stigma that child care is babysitting. In reality, 90% of brain development happens from 0-6 years old.” This framing is crucial in order to invest in an industry that, as will be discussed later, requires proper public funding to provide quality, affordable care.

The cost of child care has gotten to the point that even those working within the industry struggle to make it as working parents. Patricia Gaunt, Family Services Specialist, and Rayla LeaderCharge, Director, both balance the roles of mothers and leading PELC through these difficult times. Patricia shared stories of families that are barely able to afford child care thanks to government subsidies, but an increase of $1.5/hour bumps them out of qualification for assistance, and then they are unable to afford child care altogether. Rayla is one of these mothers who makes too much to qualify for assistance. Even with her employee discount, child care for her three children would cost $1250 monthly. To avoid getting set back in life goals with these exorbitant costs, she pays a neighbor to watch her children during the day, but even that amounts to 30% of her income. At the start of the pandemic when schools first closed and her children had to stay home, she and her children’s father had to decide who was going to take time off from work to watch the kids, an increasingly common conversation occurring in households. 

All children deserve a quality education and learning environment, regardless of the environment they are born into. The effects of early childhood development are well documented as a key social determinant of health. Beyond the obligation we have to our community’s future, there is also a tremendous societal cost that comes with an underinvested child care system. 

The Washington State Child Care Collaborative Task Force recently released a monumental study that outlines the severity of the state's child care crisis and its impact on economic development. The results are grim. 49% of Washington parents found it “difficult/very difficult” to find and keep child care. Rayla’s family’s case of having to leave work is also common: 27% of parents quit their work or left school due to child care issues. The unfortunate case of the two parents that were fired is also a trend: 9% of parents were fired due to similar issues. These numbers paint a picture of how systemic this issue is, but can also obfuscate how detrimental these barriers truly are to families upward mobility. 

Beyond this, there is the cost to the collective good of the state. When parents miss work, quit, are fired, and need to be replaced, this leads to direct and indirect costs. In 2019, the value lost from the lack of child care was $6.5 billion. This represents an economic impact of $1.78 generated in our economy for every $1 invested in child care.

A recent Spokane Alliance publication on UFCW 1439 spoke to child care’s importance to our essential workers. In a June NPR interview, PELC Owner Luc Jasmin emphasized this idea as most of their clients are essential workers. “Unless we as a nation ... decide to fund early learning, I don't know how we're going to get back to normal.”

Luc is one of three chair members for the previously mentioned Child Care Collaborative Task Force. Per legislative order, this task force will research and make recommendations to implement policy for quality, affordable care available to all Washington families. They have issued their November 2019 and July 2020 reports, with two more expected December 2020 and June 2021. Stay tuned for these future reports, as well as Spokane Alliance action on child care.

Interested in supporting Spokane Alliance actions on child care? Sign-up below to support our Child Care Research Action Team. 

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