It’s time to care about child care

Even if you don’t have children, accessible and affordable child care affects us all.

It’s no secret that housing costs on Vashon-Maury island are squeezing out the people who sustain our families, schools, healthcare and businesses.

But there’s another constraint that’s harming working families trying to make it here: Our lack of affordable child care and licensed child care providers.

Child care — which ensures our youth are safe, nourished and enriched while the adults are at work — is a bottom-line requirement for many people to make it in this community. Even if you don’t have children, accessible and affordable child care affects us all: our economic and community vibrancy dwindles when everyone isn’t able to participate.

And those who are hard-pressed to find affordable rentals here are many of the same folks who struggle to find — and afford — child care while they’re at work.

According to the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), Vashon is considered a child care desert, only meeting the needs of about 8% of those for whom staying in the workforce is dependent upon reliable child care.

While there are many wonderful preschools and enriching part-time child care programs on the island, there are very few full-time, licensed, affordable options. For families with children aged three and under, there is little to no care available outside of friends and family — which can be inconsistent. What is available still leaves many families without viable options.

Licensing, insurance, affordable space, and finding and keeping staff in a very low-paying field are some of the barriers to providers. Then there are practical barriers for families, like limited hours of operation, the need to be potty-trained, unaffordable tuition, and lack of subsidies.

This lack of child care is not a new challenge for our community. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions. It is such a critical issue that Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) applied for and was awarded a grant by the Department of Commerce to study the issue. The grant-funded project is called Project Child Care: Building Community Solutions. Its goal is to address the shortage of child care services in the community in a meaningful, community-driven, sustainable way.

VYFS staff and two outside consultants will study the needs, barriers, and challenges of accessing child care and develop a community-driven action plan to address the shortage of child care services in the community. The six-month project began in January with a survey sent via social media and email to the community.

Over the next three months, VYFS will engage the community in listening sessions, focus groups, interviews, and a community needs assessment to understand the state of child care on Vashon, as well as the challenges and barriers for child care providers and families.

Engaging the community is the first step toward finding sustainable solutions. The data we collect will inform a community-driven action plan. By coming together as a community, we hope to understand the issue, how it affects us all, and to create solutions that work for the long term.

Last year, the White House called on Congress to invest $16 billion in supplemental emergency child care funding. While the funding is critical, it is not a long-term solution, according to Elliot Haspel, a child and family policy expert at Capita, a family policy group.

“We need to shift our mindset away from child care as an individual responsibility when it actually has a collective benefit,” Haspel was quoted as saying in a Jan. 16 New York Times guest essay. “Strong families are the cornerstone of strong communities … and if you care about strong families, you need to care about child care and long-term solutions.”

Here is how you can help:

Be civically engaged; vote. Take the Child Care Survey at Attend a community listening session or set up an informal interview with one of our consultants:

  • • Betsey Archambault, Copper Consulting:
  • • Yve Susskind, Praxis Associates:

Your input matters!

Tiffany Schira is the communications and fundraising manager for Vashon Youth & Family Services.