WHITE SALMON — The community was recently invited to attend and participate in a roundtable discussion on childcare and the problems associated with it, including the overall lack of childcare providers in the area.
Attending the meeting were Klickitat County Commissioners Dave Sauter, Jacob Anderson, and Dan Christopher as well as State Rep. Chris Corry and numerous members of the community.
Leslie Naramore, executive director of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WAGAP), started off by sharing an update on the Klickitat County Childcare Committee, which was originally started by WAGAP in 2019.
The first task of the Klickitat County Childcare Committee was to do a feasibility study, which was performed with grant funding by the Washington Department of Commerce, to look at what the options for bringing child care to Klickitat County could be, with a focus on the former public works building in Goldendale. Naramore said Goldendale is a childcare desert, with no infant or toddler care available, which was the impetus for such a study, and it was later broadened to include all of Klickitat County. Out of the study, Naramore said it shows that White Salmon is also a “huge problem area for childcare.
“We know this because of the work that we do. We work with a lot of families who are also struggling with childcare. We have employees who are struggling with child care,” she said.
The building that the study focused on is no longer available, but there are hopefully other options. WAGAP was recently awarded $583,390 through a federal funding program, and with help by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office. That money is set aside either for the construction of a new building or for purchasing property for childcare purposes in Goldendale, Naramore said.
A second grant through the Washington Department of Commerce will help to fund the personnel to continue grant writing services for the agency.
WAGAP supports those seeking to provide in-home childcare services in the interim while the agency seeks out a new construction project through the use of in-home childcare kits. These kits, that are funded by grants, are starter kits for anyone interested in becoming a provider, including playmats, dishes, diapers, wipes, bottle warmers, and other essentials. This is meant to offset some of the costs of becoming a provider.
One provider in Dallesport has since taken advantage of the in-home kit program. WAGAP also supported her by helping her get a fence built around the property, which for her was the final barrier to becoming a childcare provider.
WAGAP also has a liaison, Larissa Leveque, for those interested in becoming providers. She can provide resources and can guide them through the process.
“If you are interested in getting licensed for in-home care, if you know of anyone who’s interested in getting licensed, please have them get a hold of us, and we can get them hooked up with one of our four remaining kits,” Naramore said.
Johanna Roe, the agency’s grantwriter, added that she has been looking into grants that might not address the construction of childcare facilities but could help providers through the process of getting licensed.
“It’s going to take a lot of writing and a lot of research but we’re on it,” she said.
Naramore added that, in terms of barriers that need to be addressed to help solve the problem of a lack of childcare in the area, she said the community has told her that the licensing process is cumbersome, but did not have specific answers to address the process, instead to highlight that problem to State Rep. Chris Corry, who was in attendance.
White Salmon Mayor Marla Keethler said ideas have been discussed to use city-owned facilities, for example, as a setting for childcare. “We don’t have a lot, but we have some parks. And this has been successful in places like Seattle to license for outdoor preschools. We have pretty inclement weather in the winter so there’s a lot there that would need to be worked through, but this is something that we’ve identified as potentially a way the city could invest some of its time.”
She also mentioned that the advocacy at the state level will be increasingly important, and the discussion among community members and partners in childcare will help to identify the problem areas and make a focused effort when asking for funding.
The City of White Salmon recently passed an ordinance which reimburses the cost of child care for anyone serving on a committee or commission.
“We know those are obviously not affecting the entire public, but I think we’re also trying to lead by example, and just realize that in our employment practices, part of this is about economic development. If parents aren’t having consistent supportive childcare, it affects their ability to work and not carry that stress.”
Multiple speakers from the community voiced their own concerns with childcare in the area.
One speaker, identified as Claire, noted that her babysitting practice was flagged by the state because she was frequently babysitting in a rental property, and when she asked about it, she was told the property would have to become licensed. She said going to her clients’ houses wasn’t always practical, which limited her ability to provide childcare.
Another speaker added that she empathized with Claire’s position, and as a workaround, has done outdoor preschool, which has its own limitations, because kids can only be outside for a maximum of four hours at a time. This works in her favor because she does not need a business license to do that work, she said.
Ubaldo Hernández, a member of community group Communidades, said that discussions around childcare should also include low-income earners who also need childcare. Migrant families he said often see the cost of childcare as prohibitive, adding that some businesses can be actively predatory in their pricing structures to the point of discrimination for low-income earners and migrant families. He suggested to the city to have a translator for the next round of discussions to be inclusive of people who primarily speak Spanish.
This sentiment started an engaging back-and-forth between him and community member Lorena Lowell, who has had experience in childcare for more than 20 years, spoke regarding the cost of childcare. She said she approaches childcare management with a business-like attitude, and that “the numbers have to pencil out.”
It’s balancing act, she said, adding that care providers cannot run the business “by heart” and still make the business work.
“Because I was a teacher, because I had a childcare business … we have an incredible heart as caregivers, but it is a business and we have to pay bills and we have to pay taxes,” she said.
She added that there is support available for migrant families such as migrant and seasonal Head Start, which are federally funded and free programs to parents, but child care businesses need employees, and the jobs teachers and caregivers do she said should earn them at least $20 per hour to serve five kids, which is the maximum accepted ratio in the State of Washington.
There is also a balancing act between cutting costs and providing quality care for children, she said. “That’s the issue. And it is not an easy fix. We have to make sure that the children are safe.”
Hernandez responded to Lowell’s comments, adding that families have to operate as a business as well by protecting their hard-earned income. He said businesses who do not consider the economic position of the families they are providing for are predatory and add to the struggles of a working family.
“That’s what is putting these communities in these really hard situations, where poverty is increasing at a big rate. So if we keep listening to these people that they are telling you that is your problem, because you decide to wear a nice sweatshirt, or because you decide to go out and eat something on the weekend is your fault. No, it’s not your fault, it’s also the system, and the systems are supported by the oppressed, poor people,” Hernandez said.
Another speaker, Stephanie, said she tries to charge her sister, who works during the day, less than the going rate to care for her three kids, and said a $20/hour rate that Lowell mentioned is too high for normal families to consider when they need childcare five or six days a week.
Lowell responded by saying that the business of childcare does not make the business owners very rich, and that providers should not compromise their well-being and not budget it as a business, because they have their own costs, including rent, supplies, and licensing, and it comes down to “somebody has to pay for that.”
Mayor Keethler added to the conversation that local government can intervene in a more formal way to bridge the gaps as identified in the discussion.
Gabrielle Gilbert, a community provider of childcare, said the government needs to step in and fund childcare businesses because everyone is struggling to make it work for their families and businesses.
Other ideas that were tossed around included engaging local employers to see what they can do to help provide care for their employee’s children as a way to offset costs and reduce waitlists.