Did you know that 3 out of every 4 low income children in the Spokane area are not ready to enter Kindergarten? Lack of affordable, quality child care in Spokane has long been a challenge and has become more severe in the last few years, says Kathryn Garras and Nicole Sohn, two women who are devoting their work to this pressing issue.
Kathryn (left) is the administrative assistant at Washington Child Care Center Association. She’s involved in multiple legislative sessions to support bills that would increase access to affordable child care in our community. Nicole (right) is the co-owner and operator of Journey Discovery Center, a preschool and early childhood learning center whose goals are to “promote the physical, social, emotional and academic needs of every child.” Kathryn and Nicole spoke with me recently to help explain the importance of informing our community about this growing problem.
I’m sure we have all heard the phrase, “lack of affordable child care”, but what does that really mean for our community?
Early learning and child care is a very labor intensive field. Early learning mostly means birth through age 5. “Ninety percent of brain development around executive functioning happens by the age of three”, Nicole pointed out. She said, “If you think about resiliency in our kids, if we are not investing heavily in ages birth to five, what does that mean for the mental health of our middle and high school students?”
Kathryn agrees: “There are so many studies that have shown kids who have attended high quality early learning programs are more likely to go to college, more likely to earn more money as an adult, more likely to form healthier relationships throughout their lifetime, less likely to go to prison, all of these incredibly positive things.”
We can’t control what children in our community are born into. However, we can contribute positively to minimize homelessness, poverty, and lack of access to food. Funding affordable development programs for birth to age five gives children a warm, safe place to be. It provides a funnel of services that could include support for parents and resources for families. Nicole points out that “with more birth to five development child care programs, we would start seeing cycles break in poverty and start seeing more low income kids ready for Kindergarten.”
Both Nicole and Kathryn agree, it’s not only about having a warm and safe place to be, it’s also about the quality of care being given at these establishments. Nicole spoke about the difficulties of operating a child care center with a main goal of providing these kids with developmental activities, quality learning experiences, and more staff to provide lower staff to child ratios. It’s even more difficult for child care centers like this in Washington, the one of the most expensive states to pay these employees, making child care prices for families sky rocket.
At the same time, having longevity in a child care provider helps children form deep, stable attachments. However, that type of stability becomes difficult when child care providers are paid minimum wage and seek higher paid jobs. Contributing to the complexity of the problem is that, while we are seeing minimum wage increases, the state is increasing subsidies at a rate too slow to keep up with the rising cost of labor. So, we are seeing more private provider closures, which further contributes to the lack of quality, long-term access to stable child care.
The trend of families not having quality, consistent developmental child care causes other problems, too. When the prices continue to trend upwards, mothers and fathers (mostly mothers), are going back to work part-time, or not going back to work at all. This, in turn, is influencing a greater societal problem of not having enough working women, and not having equality in the workforce.
“We could talk for hours and hours about this problem”, Nicole said. “It’s huge. And it’s something that, unless you have kids or work in this industry, you don’t think about very often.”
I learned a great deal talking to Kathryn and Nicole, two inspirational young women who are making a huge impact on the community. I wanted to get involved after talking with them, and you should too. Why? From a community perspective, honoring our children, setting them up for success, honoring the people that are having children, and pulling all together as a community is a framework change that we have to go through. As Nicole says: “We can no longer say, “Hey, let’s just put our kids over here for five years and expect them to be ready for Kindergarten and beyond.”
The generation that will be taking care of us is being developed right now, and how we invest in them will matter. It will change the landscape of our community for the better if done correctly. If we invest poorly in low income children aged birth to five, who will those children be in fifty years? How will they be strengthening our workforce, or vis versa?
Getting involved can be as easy as getting on the phone with your legislators. Sounds a bit scary, but Kathryn reminded me, “It’s hard to remember that we pay our legislators salaries, they work for us. Reaching out and telling them what matters to you is really important. I get the feeling that they don’t hear from enough parents and staff on this issue.”
Visit: http://leg.wa.gov/ to get in contact with your legislators today!