Wednesday, January 29, 2020
The Bellingham City Council voted unanimously to help save Whatcom County’s licensed childcare.
If you want to prevent unnecessary incarceration of adults, invest in quality childcare. The facts are indisputable: healthy, resilient children that have at least one responsible adult in their lives are far more likely to succeed in school and in life than kids that don’t. And locally, we face a big problem when it comes to making sure every child has a fighting chance.
Whatcom County is a childcare desert. Six out of 10 families can’t find the reliable, safe and quality childcare they seek. The disparity overwhelmingly falls to families who struggle financially and are without adequate resources. Many families are single-parent head of household. Others have both parents working at least one job. But in all cases, childcare—when you can find it—costs too much. No one should have to spend a majority of their paycheck to cover childcare, but it happens every day. What’s left over goes to rent and bills and not much else. But it’s not just about money; it’s the system that’s the problem.
Qualified childcare providers—those that have staff members trained to care for different ages and abilities—are reimbursed at the thinnest of margins—about 55 percent of the cost is covered by state dollars from Olympia. And the people who have one of the most important jobs in our community—caring for our kids during their most formative developmental years—are compensated at a far lesser rate than they should be, hovering near minimum wage. Overall, it creates a business model that few seek and even fewer can operate with confidence. Combine that with an increase in minimum wage and a low unemployment rate and we continue to find ourselves in the dearth of providers. And not just for families with low incomes, but for everyone.
It is within this perfect storm of influencing factors that City Council was asked in December 2019 to put up $100,000 to support a local nonprofit in their quest to take over operations for Kids World, a local business that operates four facilities—three in Bellingham and one in Ferndale. Kids World accounts for 16 percent of all available childcare slots in Whatcom County—532 kids receive services from this company. Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County is seeking partners like the city to help them raise $300,000 to partially fill the forecasted financial gap and Whatcom County is considering adding an additional $100,000 to help defray the costs of providing care for kids whose families rely on Kids World.
Communities cannot rely on patches and bandaids to care for our kids. All 39 counties in Washington State need relief when it comes to childcare. And to be clear, this isn’t just babysitting. Research shows that the first 1,000 days of a person’s life—roughly the first three years—shape learning, socialization, esteem, compassion and other character traits that influence who we become as adults.
Absent having a local, dedicated fund to support early childhood development—like a Children’s Levy—the Legislature should fully fund House Bill 1344. This bill would provide universal access to childcare by 2025 and set the cap that households will pay for childcare to seven percent of the family’s income. Considering that infant care costs more than in-state tuition at a community college, this could provide families a better head start and more opportunities at both childhood success and employment success for parents that can work without the looming stress of childcare costs.
Dan Hammill is the Ward 3 Representative on Bellingham City Council.