New report: Staggering staff turnover rate emphasizes urgent need to support child care workforce in order to increase access and affordability of quality care

  • August 24, 2021

Washington’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force releases strategy that builds on historic Fair Start for Kids Act investments, calls for focus on growing the child care workforce.

OLYMPIA, WA – Washington state’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force released a comprehensive new strategy that emphasizes the urgency of bolstering the child care workforce amidst a staggering turnover rate of 43 percent.

The new Washington State Child Care Access Strategy makes clear that supporting and growing Washington’s child care workforce is essential for ensuring families have access to high-quality care.

“We consider access, affordability and quality to be essential for a functional child care system. A thriving child care workforce is foundational to all of those elements,” said Ryan Pricco, task force tri-chair and Director of Policy and Advocacy for Child Care Aware of Washington.

Pricco says recruiting and retaining workers was a challenge prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and providers say it has become even more challenging over the past year.

“Child care educator turnover not only makes it hard for a program to keep its doors open – it also undermines children’s development that is supported by consistent, caring adults with training and experience in the field,” Pricco continued. “This is especially important as parents try to return to work. It’s time to focus on our workforce as the ‘fourth leg’ of the child care stool.”

With 4 out of 5 providers reporting staff shortages, financing model needed to support higher child care wages

Better wages and benefits are key to a thriving child care workforce, the task force concluded. These findings were echoed in a July 2021 survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which suggested that 4 out of 5 child care providers are experiencing a staffing shortage—and 78% of survey respondents considered wages the primary recruitment challenge.

Task force tri-chair Luc Jasmin, President of Washington Childcare Centers Association and owner of Parkview Early Learning Center in Spokane, explains that it’s not as easy as simply increasing wages and passing the costs along to customers. Jasmin notes that parents already pay in excess of college tuition for care in many cases, and providers operate on razor-thin margins to balance revenue and expenses.

As a first step in figuring out creative solutions to increasing staff pay without increasing burdens on parents, the task force will complete its work to identify the true costs of providing high-quality child care. A report on “cost of quality” findings and recommendations is due in Nov. 2022.

Pandemic has driven momentum for improving child care access and affordability

In 2020, the task force estimated over half a million Washington children birth through age 12 have all parents in the workforce but no available licensed child care. The strategy addresses this and other gaps in licensed child care availability and affordability throughout the state.

Access to high-quality child care contributes to healthy child development and allows parents to participate in the labor force, a fact underscored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as many women, in particular, left the workforce to care for school-age children.

“It’s impossible to ignore the moment we’re in and the role child care access will play in a robust and equitable economic recovery,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “The pandemic revealed enormous disparities, including the disproportionate burden that remains on women to fill an unpaid role of caring for children at home.”

“At the same time, this has been a historic year. The Fair Start for Kids Act doubled our state’s investment in child care and early learning,” Brown noted. “I stand with the task force in supporting full implementation of the Fair Start Act, and furthering the efforts to adequately pay and support a thriving child care workforce – a historically low-wage workforce that is disproportionately composed of women and women of color.”

“Businesses and families depend on us getting this right”

The task force strategy also builds on policy improvements and investments made by the legislature earlier this year with the Fair Start for Kids Act and state budget. The Fair Start for Kids Act was designed to implement many of the task force’s earlier recommendations, according to remarks made by legislation sponsors and task force members Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island, 41st Dist.) and Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn, 30th Dist.) at a May 4 task force meeting (Video).

The task force strategy outlines the following action recommendations:

Strategic Goal
Action Needed
Child care is a field that offers its workforce economic security and respected, long-term career options, as measured by staff retention. o   Pay staff competitively

o   Increase access to benefits

o   Support professional development

Robust child care system infrastructure is in place to sustain a mixed-delivery model of high-quality child care services. Infrastructure includes financial resources, professional development opportunities, and access to behavioral, mental health, healthcare, educational, and other resources. o   Invest in startup and operation

o   Provide services and supports

o   Develop facilities

o   Build systems

Child care providers can deliver high-quality child care services and accept state subsidies. o   Increase subsidy payments

o   Fund and support high-quality services

Low and middle income families know about and can use child care subsidies. o   Lower copays

o   Expand eligibility

o   Inform families

Families can navigate child supports and enroll in child care programs. o   Improve child care consumer education

o   Increase language accessibility

Employers and businesses implement practices that make child care more affordable and accessible for their employees. o   Engage employers

o   Provide resources and assistance

Child care licensing regulations are streamlined to the extent allowed under federal regulations, and ongoing efforts support simplified local regulations, building codes, zoning, permitting processes, and fee structures, to facilitate startup, operation, and expansion of child care programs. o   Evaluate, improve, and streamline rules, codes and processes

o   Help providers succeed

“There is no question that we’re making progress,” said task force tri-chair Amy Anderson, Government Affairs Director for the Association of Washington Business, comparing the child care policy landscape when the task force began in 2018, to the present. “But businesses and families depend on us getting this right, beginning with our work to establish the real cost of child care.”

Target investments to reduce disparities, achieve more equitable outcomes

Targeted investments can address our state’s severe lack of infant care, nonstandard-hour care, child mental health resources, and other critical gaps in the system. These and other investments and system improvements have the potential to reduce disparities in child care service delivery and access by families, and achieve equitable outcomes for children, families and child care professionals.

“Our state’s current and future economic strength requires that we help parents remain in and reenter the workforce, achieve economic security and meet their goals for their children,” Anderson said.

“The Fair Start for Kids Act is proactive and ground-breaking legislation centered on children and families. It gives DCYF the monumental task of increasing child care access and affordability for families, supporting early learning providers, and centering equity in the early learning system,” said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter. “The work of the Child Care Collaborative Task Force builds on that legislation and continues to offer a vision for the future, where Washington children can thrive emotionally and academically.”

The Child Care Collaborative Task Force is a broad coalition of child care providers, advocates, legislators, community members and representatives of the business community. The task force was extended in 2021 to establish the true cost of quality child care and report findings and recommendations to the governor and legislature in November 2022.

For more information, visit the Child Care Collaborative Task Force webpage.

Commerce acts as co-convener of the task force with the Department of Children, Youth and Families. The agency partners will also work together to provide technical assistance to employers on employer-supported child care options over the next two years. In addition to this work, Commerce provides Child Care Partnership Grants to collaborative efforts to expand child care capacity in communities throughout the state – over $3 million in fiscal year 2021, consisting of 43% state funds and 57% match by private philanthropic sources through the Safe Start for a Healthy Economic Transition and Recovery Fund, and $500,000 per year in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. Commerce also funds capital investments statewide through the Early Learning Facilities grant program.

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