Anecdotal evidence shows that the lack of child care on Whidbey Island was a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic and has only gotten worse, according to Island County Public Health.
In order to get a better picture of the problem, Public Health applied for a $100,000 state Department of Commerce grant to assess the availability of child care and form policy recommendations; the county was one of a handful of counties to be awarded, according to Theresa Sanders, director of Assessment and Healthy Communities.
As part of the effort, the county started an online survey that asks parents, guardians and future parents about their experiences, insights and needs. The survey is at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CCTFParentGuardian2.
Sanders pointed out that the availability of child care is a determinant for the health and economic welfare of families — especially for women and children. It’s an issue that was on her radar prior to the pandemic.
“COVID increased the need and reduced the availability of child care,” she said. “It’s a good time to look at it.”
Federal and state agencies, as well as activists, have raised concerns that the scarcity of child care during the pandemic will exacerbate the inequality in salaries and employment opportunities that women face because the responsibility of caring for children largely falls on mothers.
Sanders said initial reports indicate that the greatest child care need in the county is for infant care. The county lost scarce providers for infant care over the last year. Washington is the third most expensive state when it comes to home-based infant child care, according to the resolution on the program.
As a condition of the grant, at the beginning of the year the county created the Child Care Partnership Task Force, which is meant to “develop collaborative, multi-sector partnerships to assess current childcare resources and needs in Island County and explore ways to expand capacity of and access to child care programs, especially for historically marginalized communities and families.”
The task force has both a webpage on the Public Health website and a Facebook page.
The task force will create policy recommendations for a state task force and for county government that promote quality affordable child-care options, Sanders said. The hope, she said, is to have pilot programs later this year.
The county’s role, Sanders said, is “getting everyone together and united in an action plan,” noting that child care is an issue several different agencies and governmental entities in the county are concerned about.