I constantly hear from parents about their child care. Whether that they love it, hate it, or that it’s just plain too expensive, childcare is critical to a healthy workforce here in Seattle. Safe and affordable childcare gives parents the piece of mind that their children are getting taken care of while they work day in and day out to make ends meet. Not only does access to childcare help moms get back to work, but it allows new parents to transition back to the workforce, which can improve the stability of parents’ careers and subsequent earnings over time.
Parents aren’t the only ones that experience long term benefits from access to affordable childcare: there is ample evidence that safe, stable early learning environments from ages 0–4 can improve outcomes for children in childcare across the lifespan. Evidence shows that school age children who entered high quality childcare scored higher on math and reading tests later in their education and were less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms in adolescence. As adults, these children were more likely to have completed college and hold down a job, relative to children who did not enter high quality childcare. In many ways, high quality access to child care is even more critical for the children of working parents as it is for the parents who need that care to provide for their families.
Given how important early child care is for children and working parents alike, a much greater premium should be placed on the adults tasked with providing the education and development of young children. However, as a society, we do exactly the opposite. Childcare workers and preschool teachers, many of whom are womxn, immigrants, and womxn of color, are some of the lowest paid workers, earning 40% less than the median wage of all occupations. Childcare workers and preschool teachers are also less likely to have access to workplace benefits, such as health insurance, 401-Ks or paid time off. Taken together, childcare workers and their families are in deeply precarious economic positions: 15% of child care worker families earn incomes below the federal poverty level and experience very high levels of worry about food and housing costs.
Why do we treat child care workers like second-class citizens, when evidence shows the critical importance these workers play into our city’s future? Calls have been made in Seattle to expand pre-K, which would certainly improve the lives of some families, but it is not enough. A pre-K expansion at the expense of all age early child care expansion may increase costs of infant and toddler care, reduce stability of a child’s environment, and reduce play-based learning for 4 year olds. Seattle parents need affordable options and faster wait times to access facilities. Child care facility owners need city support to start their own businesses and, most importantly, child care workers need higher wages and jobs that can evolve into careers to provide the care we know our kids deserve.
We can do better. I have done the research and have met with child care workers, parents, and child-care development groups to create a comprehensive plan to expand access to affordable 0–4 year old child care. This plan will reduce costs and elevate the education and wages of child care workers in partnership with large businesses who employ Seattle workers. If we succeed, child care and Seattle’s next generation will be brighter and more prosperous than ever.
As your future councilperson, I will reform Seattle’s child care system in the following ways:
- Update childcare regulations for an urbanized environment. Single family zones are a perfect location for parents who need to drop their children off before work, but because of a loophole, it’s impossible to have childcare centers located on the same block as a library or corner store. I will work to amend current regulation so that childcare centers can built more easily in “single family zones”. Additionally, childcare centers are mandated to provide space for employee parking at the cost of building sizeable centers. In areas with exceptional transit access, I would exempt new childcare centers from employee parking regulations. Finally, I would re-examine the play requirements to ensure that play time can be had in all facilities, regardless of the outdoor space available in dense blocks.
- Simplify permitting process and reduce costs for new childcare facility owners. The biggest problem Seattle’s currently has is access: there are simply not enough childcare centers to go around. I will make it easier for new owners to open shop and welcome clientele.
- Expand childcare education and training programs in a culturally responsive way. Seattle’s diversity is one of our most celebrated attributes, however current child care training and education does not allow for workers, parents or children to gain access to culturally responsive care. I would work with the council to provide additional funding to worker-led training programs, like the Imagine Institute, which provides multi-lingual certifications to help workers keep up with professional certifications in a supportive, professional environment. I would also expand community college curriculum to increase the number of child care classes. Beyond making more classes available, I will ensure child care classes are available in Spanish and Somali so highly-skilled childcare workers can get certified to own their own childcare centers regardless of a language barrier in training.
- Require large businesses to fund a number of slots scaled to their number of employees. This bold new approach will make businesses partners in the city’s efforts to expand child care and help employees of all wage levels get priority access to a share of slots. For childcare providers, knowledge that employers will be helping to foot the bill can stabilize revenues for providers and employment of new and existing child care workers.
Nearly everyone I talk to in Seattle has a story to tell about their child care situation. Some parents can’t afford it, while others are afraid to start a family because the costs. Young entrepreneurs dream of starting a facility, but stop short when they see the towering costs associated with it, and child care workers distress about having enough money to pay their monthly bills. Across our city, child care needs to be at the forefront of policy. As your future city councilperson, I will make sure it is a priority for Seattle.