Pierce County Launching Pilot Childcare Capacity Initiative
August 30, 2022
Organizations in Pierce County are launching a pilot program aimed at addressing the childcare crisis.
WorkForce Central is supporting First 5 Fundamentals, The Pierce County Early Childhood Network, and Pierce County in using a $1.4 million grant to create a support system for childcare providers. With a goal to create a long-lasting, sustainable program that brings stability to the system as a whole, the Child Care Voice Capacity Initiative is now in the planning stages, with a pilot launch set for January 2023.
This will be a pilot program looked at by the entire state. The childcare industry in Washington has been deeply underfunded and overburdened for decades. Childcare providers make little over minimum wage, while the monthly cost of care is often the most expensive bill many families pay. Infant care, for example, surpasses the cost of tuition at a public university. Not only is this stressful for families but also for businesses, who need a reliable workforce, according to the Initiative’s Strategies Team.
The crisis has accelerated with COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, there were almost 500 licensed childcare providers in Pierce County with a capacity to serve 27,000 children between the ages of 0-12. Today, childcare providers in Pierce County have a capacity to serve 20,699 children between ages 0-12. This is a significant drop in an already low supply of childcare.
Cheri Beavers was hired on as the Childcare Voice Capacity Initiative Manager in May and is working to launch the pilot program in Pierce County.
Cheri Beavers was hired in May as the program manager for the Childcare Voice Initiative. She said the current crisis is massively affecting the economy and people’s ability to work because they can’t afford childcare.
The goal of the Initiative is to support providers, so they don’t close and assist them with staying open and even expanding.
A strategy team was created as a think tank to identify and address barriers in policy at local and state levels. This team is comprised of vested individuals who can advocate at higher levels for the industry. Providers are being brought in to also address what barriers are impacting them and what assistance is needed in their industry.
“The current system doesn’t work for providers,” Beavers said. “Let’s create something for providers by providers. They tell us what they need. They are the ones with the lived experience.”
The Initiative is creating a support system that will be used by a cohort of 15-20 childcare providers in January 2023. After four months, the Initiative will review and evaluate any adjustments needed and then start a second cohort of providers in addition to the first continuing. The goal is to have a report of hard data provided to the county by Fall 2023.
“In that report, there will be real numbers,” Beavers said. “We will see the impact because providers will have resources available.”
The support services will include access to supplies, financial support for employees, business management, and financial coaching. It will also look at ways to build providers up to provide employees with basic benefits they haven’t previously been able to afford, such as medical insurance and PTO.
During this time, the Initiative will also be looking for employers and government to find ways to support employees with childcare. Beavers said some employers in the county are already doing that in various ways, including subsidizing costs or creating partnerships with providers.
“Just like healthcare, employers are seeing the need to support childcare,” Beavers said. But in this instance, that support is for families and not providers.
The Initiative aims to create a sustainable and equitable system.
Just two months into this new role, Beavers said it has been really eye-opening and has become a bit of a personal journey. Beavers was adopted as a young child and just recently met her biological siblings. It was during this connection Beavers learned that her biological mother was single and worked as a nurse when she had her. She struggled for quite a while trying to work and balance childcare with no support at any level before ultimately putting Beavers up for adoption.
“I was ultimately placed in foster care because there was a lack of childcare; there weren’t resources,” she said. “When I took this position, it did not occur to me that parents can’t take care of their children because of this. The more I learn, this is so eye-opening to me. The humanity behind what is happening, the cost people have paid for long.”
“We need accessible, equitable, and affordable care that is culturally inclusive. It takes the entire community and the government to work together for the solution.”