Whenever there has been a crisis in Juneau, the community has generously stepped in to help, especially when it involves children. The current lack of affordable child care has frustrated families and slowed Juneau’s economic growth. How we respond will help define our future.
In just the last 12 months, Juneau lost another 20 percent of its child care spaces due to provider closures, leaving us with less than half of the child care capacity we need. Parents simply cannot afford to pay enough to make child care economically viable in Juneau; the market is failing.
This child care shortage impacts all of us, forcing parents out of the workforce, increasing parent absenteeism, reducing child readiness for kindergarten (which reduces achievement during their entire school life), increasing stress that may result in more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and much more.
While these impacts on individual families and children are bad, the collective impact on our community’s economy is also highly negative: less people in the workforce means reduced earnings, and stifled innovation and entrepreneurialism. Workday disruptions reduce productivity. Employers are less likely to set-up shop or increase their presence here. Consider the two most important factors the Coast Guard considers when placing facilities: affordable, available, high-quality child care and affordable housing.
Then there are the negative impacts on children and their development. There is overwhelming scientific proof that ages zero to 5 are the most important years for healthy brain development, learning preparation and development of skills. Approximately two-thirds of Juneau’s children entering school are not “kindergarten-ready,” a key factor in lifetime academic performance. Alaska exceeds most other states in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); Juneau exceeds the Alaska average in half of these categories.
High-quality child care has been shown to have a significant positive impact on improving kindergarten readiness and reducing the negative impacts of ACEs, as well as numerous other benefits such as improving lifetime earnings and general health indicators.
But what can we, the people of Juneau, do about this?
On Aug. 13, the Juneau Assembly will determine whether to put an advisory vote on the Oct. 2 municipal ballot asking Juneau residents whether the city should provide leadership and financial assistance to private and nonprofit child care providers, correcting our community’s market failure.
Using a nationally-successful model, the first-year cost of fixing our child care system would be approximately $700,000. The maximum annual cost after a five-year implementation is $2.8 million per year. This would result in a doubling of child care availability, which is estimated to meet Juneau’s child care needs. This is a small amount to spend to provide relief for Juneau families, improve our economy and prepare our children for a lifetime of success. We can afford to do this — and can’t afford not to.
Now is the time for everyone in Juneau to invest in its future: our children. Your support can make a huge difference in the lives of Juneau’s children and families, and make Juneau the most family friendly community in Alaska. Please contact members of the CBJ Assembly before Aug. 13 and encourage them to put this advisory vote on the October ballot to let us, the people of Juneau, decide. Then listen, get informed and get involved to support the successful passage of the advisory vote in the October 2nd election. Our community, and our children, are worth it.
• Kevin Ritchie is a former Juneau City and Borough Manager. He retired as the Executive Director of the Alaska Municipal League/Alaska conference of Mayors in 2006. He has been involved in many local and statewide youth, civic and professional organizations.