We can’t say when or if reforms will happen, but a state task force has come up with ideas to improve child care in Oregon. The state’s Joint Task Force on Access to Quality Affordable Child Care is scheduled to meet Tuesday to clarify its recommendations for legislators.
Problem: Regulations for child care businesses are a confusing mess. A key issue is that regulations are in one agency, the Early Learning Division of the Department of Education. But the state’s largest child care program called ERDC is housed in the Department of Human Services. That can be confusing to providers, can make tracking data to measure performance difficult and complicates monitoring of child care spending. One fact we found amazing: Even though families in Oregon are desperate for child care, the ERDC program usually ends up at the end of each year with money left over. How does that happen?
Possible solution: Roll state regulation and state programs into one agency. That won’t solve all those problems. It could help.
Problem: Parents can’t find openings. Child care centers have trouble letting people know about them. There is no easy solution now. It also makes it challenging for the state to get the data to understand the levels of demand and supply.
Possible solution: A centralized web portal.
Problem: Most child care workers make wages that put them at the poverty level and yet, they play a vital role in society. Turnover is extremely high — 25% of the workforce changes every year. It makes staffing, training and meeting regulations challenging.
Possible solutions: The state could require higher wages. Requirements could also be set to improve benefits. Scholarships could be funded for education, turning what is a job now into more of a career. A substitute pool could be developed to help businesses stay open. The state could also set its subsidies at the cost of operating businesses.
There are more.
One interesting thing to note about the child care task force. Recently it broke into smaller workgroups to tackle specific problem areas. Some members of the task force did not attend any of their assigned workgroup meetings. That’s unfortunate.
Child care is a vexing, persistent problem. Oregon State University researchers have said they found only one regulated child care slot for every three children — the very definition of a child care desert — pretty much everywhere across Oregon. Specifically, researchers found for children under age five “only nine counties in Oregon did not meet the definition of a child care desert, and every county in Oregon was a desert for infant and toddler care, with fewer than one child care slot for every eight infants and toddlers in the state.”
Finding a slot is one thing. There’s also the cost. It can be $1,000 a month per child. Almost all of child care is paid by parents — about 70%. That burden is simply prohibitive for many parents.
We don’t have to be stuck with that level of access and cost. Consider, though, the difference between how Gov. Kate Brown responded to climate change and what she did about child care. Yes, it’s no apples-to-apples to comparison. Still, she issued an executive order directing state agencies to take dramatic action on climate change. Did child care for Oregon families get that level of urgency? No.
Because the state has failed to deliver adequate solutions, the Bend Chamber formed its own task force to grapple with child care. Redmond recently took action to lower fees for child care businesses. The Bend City Council is similarly set to pass a change Wednesday to continue to reduce fees. The clock ticks. How many more mornings will Oregon families wake up without the Legislature taking action?