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City, workforce partnership officials discuss solutions to make child care accessible.

COURTESY PHOTO: UNSPLASH/ERIKA FLETCHER - Clackamas Workforce Partnership is working with cities to address need for accessible childcare. It's no secret that raising a child can be an economic challenge. In Clackamas County, and especially Sandy, the feat has been deemed even more difficult by an overall lack of child care options and/or accessibility to affordable child care.

To get the ball rolling toward a solution to what's being called the "child care crisis," representatives of the Clackamas Workforce Partnership and members of the Sandy city government and city council met to discuss barriers to care for Sandy parents.

"I knew about (the problem) just from being a mom," said Councilor Bethany Shultz. "It's difficult having that choice between working or staying at home," Shultz said.

Shultz has a college degree in early childhood education and taught preschool until she had her first child and had to make the decision to stay at home with her daughter because of the cost of child care.

According to statistics from the Clackamas Workforce Partnership, Sandy only has availability to enroll six children of the infant-to-toddler age range per year. That's overall, including home-based centers and commercial institutions.

There are also a total of 162 spots for preschool-aged children.

There are 1,400 children under the age of 5 on record living in Sandy.

In Clackamas County, 13% of 0-2 year olds have access to a slot in a child care facility. Across the state, there are 8 infants and toddlers for every infant/toddler slot and 3 preschool age children for every preschool-age slot.

"What we're hearing is (that) we need to create more space (for child care)," Shultz said. "What can we do to make this easier on a city level? This is a big problem. It feels like something we should be able to work on. I would encourage (the council) to at least have this on our radar (if not a council goal)."

Sandy is one of three cities, and the most "receptive," the county has talked to about the child care crisis and possible solutions.

According to Brent Balog, a program manager at Clackamas Workforce Partnership (CWP), at a meeting on Nov. 12, city and CWP representatives discussed "how to alleviate stress on families," including possibly changing regulations on facilities with the potential to house new child care operations, and lifting ordinances and traffic and parking regulations that may keep child care service providers from moving into the city center.

Shultz agreed that the city needed to look at making more space available and accessible for commercial child care endeavors.

As it is, Balog added, because of a lack of spots in Sandy, many who commute into other cities and counties for work are enrolling their children in child care in those locations and taking spots from other parents who live in those places.

Funding child care for families, careers

Both the city and CWP also acknowledge that the cost of child care is often a factor in people's choice to stay at home, if they can, and prohibitive to parents.

The average cost of providing infant care in the United States is more than 20% of a typical family's income, according to the Oregon Child Care Research Partnership.

"A minimum-wage worker in Clackamas County would have to pay 60% of their income toward child care (in most cases)," Shultz explained.

"There's not a lot of availability in Sandy, but we want to make what there is more accessible," Balog said.

According to 2013-2017 information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median selected homeowner costs in Clackamas County for residents with a mortgage is $1,857 per month, just for housing.

Without a mortgage, the cost for child care is $609. In 2018, the average cost of child care for infants and toddlers rose to around $1,400.

Making child care a

desirable career

At the county level, the workforce partnership is also exploring how to make the child care industry more appealing as a long-term career for people.

"It's a pretty expensive industry but not especially lucrative," Balog said, explaining that low wages and high demand have led to a turnover rate of 20%. "In the past, the county has elevated the healthcare industry by focusing on raising wages and offering high quality training."

He said they hope to similarly "elevate" the child care industry. According to 2013 information from the Child Care Resource and Referral of Clackamas County, child care workers earned a median salary between $20,800 and $28,9956, with 35% of those people having a bachelor's degree or higher degree.

Nowadays, those in the industry on average earn a maximum of $14.50 per hour, and 70% of child care facilities offer health insurance; only 57% offer paid time off and 39% offer some type of retirement plan.

Balog also noted that about 99% of the people operating home-based child care centers are women and 94% in commercial child care are women.

"It's an issue that affects women in the workforce disproportionately," Balog explained.

"We want to create a clearer pathway for those in early childhood education or child care (to progress)," Balog added, noting that the county is looking to make trainings in the industry and education for child care workers to progress into higher-paying related occupations more accessible. "We need well-aid, well-educated people in child care. Oftentimes families can't offer everything a child needs, as well, so really early education providers are a safety net."

Balog said in the long run, quality, regulated child care could help lessen stress on public mental health services and services for youths who end up in criminal activity.

"We want to do preventive rather than reparative work," he said. "We want to do more to meet family needs at a younger age."

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