Task force takes on affordable child care shortage

Task force takes on affordable child care shortage

Next step will be defining standards for quality of care

Before fixing a problem, one has to define exactly what the problem is. The child care task force created by Mayor Beth Weldon attempted to do just that at its third meeting on Friday.

“I think we’ve accomplished trying to hone in on exactly what the problem is,” said Blue Shibler, a committee member who runs Discovery Preschool. “There are a lot of aspects to it, so we’re really trying to identify how child care affects Juneau, and why is it a problem for Juneau families, and all residents really.”

For years, Juneau has struggled with a shortage of affordable child care options, with many care centers closing. For parents, providers and child care employees, finances are a major roadblock when it comes to child care. Child care in Juneau can cost more than $1,000 per month, which is difficult to fit into a budget.

[Two child care centers in Juneau are closing, worsening provider shortage]

On Friday, the committee members spent the hour narrowing down and refining the wording in their problem statement. Their goal is to define which problem to solve before delving into finding solutions.

Assembly member Loren Jones, chair of the committee, said he hopes to bring in someone from Learn & Grow to help them define exactly what determines quality child care. Learn & Grow is a statewide Quality Recognition and Improvement System that measures and sets standards for quality of care, kind of like an accreditation system for child care, he said.

“I don’t want this committee to get hung up on trying to define quality,” Jones said. “If there’s a standard out there that we can say, ‘Whatever we do, [child care providers] have to be involved in Learn & Grow, because that provides us a safety that we know that there’s some quality being applied.”

After they establish a quality of care, then there will be standards about who can receive any suggested city funding as a part of solutions the committee might propose.

Weldon said there are two questions she’d like the task force to focus on: Should child care be part of our core municipal activities? Should education be part of child care? The answers to these questions, Weldon said, will likely come from people in the community.

[New mayor forms child care task force]

Shibler also hopes they can get to the heart of the matter by hearing from actual people instead of just relying on data to make decisions. This includes hearing from child care workers and parents.

“We have this four-inch binder full of data, and it would be nice to put faces to all of that,” she said. “[I want] to hear the stories of people who have run child care businesses just because in their heart they feel a passion to do that work, but then there are all these business circumstances that make it impossible for them to live.”

Many of her employees who work at Discovery Preschool can’t even afford their own child care on their wages, which she said average at about $10.50 an hour for employees with no experience or certifications.

“It’s not a livable wage in Juneau,” she said.

The next committee meeting is set for 12:15 p.m. on Jan. 11 at City Hall.

• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at 523-2228 or mbarnes@juneauempire.com.

• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at 523-2228 or mbarnes@juneauempire.com.

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