Struggling with Child Care? Things Might Be Looking Up

Newly released Child Care Aware Data Report examines child care in Washington State

best friends in child care

The March ParentMap cover story alerted us to a key finding from the annual data report from Child Care Aware of Washington State (CCA): Washington is ranked sixth in the nation for least affordable child care. As writer Malia Jacobson put it: "The average cost of a year of infant child care in Seattle is more than a year of tuition at the University of Washington."

Interested in learning more about the 2015 data report, which was released in full on CCA's website last week, I talked with CCA's CEO Robin Lester and director of data and evaluation Karen Sampson.

"To be honest, the trends were very similar to last year's report," says Sampson. "The cost of care hasn't gone up much (2 to 3 percent) since 2014. The problems we have, like the gap in capacity for evening and weekend care, seem to be more persistent."

Lester pointed out that while median income hasn't gotten worse, it also hasn't improved since the Great Recession and so hasn't not caught up to rising childcare costs.

"When you look at the people who are using child care, there are two groups: one at the higher end of the income scale and one at the lower to middle income levels," says Lester. "The low to middle income levels have not recovered to the same degree as the higher incomes since the recession and child care costs continue to rise. For example, in King County, the median cost of childcare for an infant in a child care center is more than $1,400 per month."

It wasn't all bad news for King County, however. Childcare options have increased by 20 percent since 2011, says Sampson. That bucks the trend of significantly fewer options in much of the state. 

Plus, more than half of our state's licensed child care providers are participating in the state-funded Early Achievers program, which uses a simple rating system to help people find high-quality care and help providers increase the quality of care. 

"It's a win-win for providers and children,” Lester says of Early Achievers. "The good news is that we are moving in the right direction, both with the program and with enrollment numbers."

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