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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Website good tool, but child care still needs help

The Columbian
Published: December 8, 2023, 6:03am

Finding child care continues to be a major challenge for families in Washington, so the announcement of a new service to help parents is welcome news.

Kinside, a Seattle-based startup, has launched a website where families can find real-time prices and openings at child care centers. Currently, the program only allows people to search for openings in the Seattle area, but co-founder Brittney Barrett said the company hopes to expand soon to more locations, the Washington State Standard reported this week.

“There was no easy way to find child care before,” Barrett told the online news service. “We’ve created a one-stop shop.”

The Legislature passed the Fair Start for Kids Act in 2021, which greatly expanded access to child care for families, increasing who qualifies for subsidies as well as the amounts they can receive.

But more needs to be done. The state Department of Children, Youth & Families estimates that about 320,000 children 5 years and younger need child care, but only about 27 percent of those children are served by licensed child care, preschool and/or subsidized child care.

“Additionally,” DCYF writes on its website, “we estimate that families of over 463,000 school-age children (kindergarten-age 12) are in need of care, and only about 11 percent of these children are served by licensed child care, preschool and/or subsidized child care.”

In Clark County, the state agency estimates that only about 23.59 percent of child care needs are being met.

Besides lack of availability, cost is certainly a factor. According to Child Care Aware of America: In Washington, the average monthly price of full-time child care is $1,044 per child. A family with at least one child under age 6 and earning 25 percent of median household income spends 72 percent of their income on child care. Families headed by a married couple on average spend 15 percent of their income on child care; by comparison single-parent households pay 33 percent of their income for child care.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has been at the forefront of working to expand the federal government’s support of child care. In October, while pressing for full funding of President Joe Biden’s supplemental funding request, Murray summed up in a statement why child care is such a critical issue:

“The president’s request is a reflection of how dire this crisis has grown, and it’s a testament to the growing chorus of voices making clear: we have absolutely got to address the child care crisis. Parents can scarcely find child care, and it’s just as tough for them to afford. Many parents — especially moms — are being forced to leave or unable to return to the workforce because it just doesn’t square with their family finances. That’s a big problem for small businesses and big firms alike. It’s a full-blown crisis — and it’s costing our economy big time.”

How big? According to Murray, $122 billion per year.

It can’t be overemphasized how important child care is to the U.S. economy. As Murray notes, if parents can’t find reliable, affordable child care, they can’t return to the workforce, exacerbating employers’ already difficult efforts to build or maintain a steady roster of employees.

A single website isn’t going to solve all the difficulties families face trying to find child care, but it can be a helpful tool. Hopefully Kinside’s services will soon extend into Southwest Washington.

In the meantime, lawmakers at the state and federal levels must do everything possible to ensure child care is available and affordable for everyone who needs it.