The YMCA of Greater Seattle opened its King County branches to provide child care centers dedicated to serving the families of essential workers. Courtesy photo

The YMCA of Greater Seattle opened its King County branches to provide child care centers dedicated to serving the families of essential workers. Courtesy photo

COVID continues to whittle away at child care in Washington

It’s estimated that 25% of Washington child care facilities have closed since the pandemic began.

The impacts of coronavirus on child care in Washington state are outlined in a new report, which shows more facility closures, decreased enrollment and more staff layoffs.

The report was released Aug. 25 by the state’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force. It builds on prior reports, which show nearly 550,000 children under age 12 in Washington state don’t have access to child care. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates this problem.

Even before the coronavirus, there were some 737,000 children under 12 in the state that needed child care, but only around 187,500 licensed spaces. People of color have less access to quality child care, the report states. And child care is often expensive for families, and more so for single parents.

In King County last year, there were only 64,000 child care spaces for the more than 127,500 kids under age 5, according to a Child Care Aware paper released in 2019.

As of July, 20 percent of child care providers were temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The advocacy organization Child Care Aware estimates up to one-quarter of these providers could have shut down since the pandemic began.

Some 44 percent of early child educators had been laid off or furloughed. And 64 percent of child care businesses surveyed reported their income had decreased by at least half.

At the same time, operating costs have increased by 30 percent because of smaller classes, increased sanitation and staff substitutions.

As school starts entirely online across King County in the coming weeks, there will be an even greater demand for school-age child care options, the report states.

There are concerns that if parents aren’t able to find child care, they may not return to work, which could hamper any economic recovery. And child care workers themselves often aren’t given living wages or health insurance. Child care programs often rely on low levels of state reimbursement rates to fund programs, leaving many short on money even during the good times.

Child Care Aware last year found that Washington state is one of the worst places to find child care, especially for working families.

Statewide, about two-thirds of people live in an area where there are three times as many children as licensed child care spaces. Suburbs and low-income areas have fewer child care options than those living in cities.

A study by Child Care Aware found that the median income for a married couple with kids inside Seattle was $151,000 — about $41,000 more than outside the city. And the annual cost for infant care, on average, for families in Seattle was $23,000 in 2018, compared to $16,000 in other parts of King County. High child care costs, lower wages and bloated housing costs put financial strain on families everywhere, but especially on those headed by single women.

A September 2019 report found that half of Washington parents found it difficult to afford child care, and more than a quarter quit or left school or training because of child care issues. About 10 percent were fired or let go. In total, the report estimated $6.5 billion is lost annually in direct and opportunity costs due to employee child care issues.


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