Hawaii has a critical need for more infant and toddler care, and some rural areas are “child care deserts” with few options for working parents, according to a report released Thursday.
Where child care is available, the price puts it out of reach for many people, according to the Hawaii Early Learning Needs Assessment, billed as the first comprehensive study of care and learning programs for children from birth through age 5.
“Hawaii has the unfortunate distinction of having the nation’s least affordable child care, when you consider tuition in relationship to the size of typical family income,” said Barbara DeBaryshe, interim director of the University of Hawaii Center on the Family and co-author of the report.
The study was produced by the UH Center on the Family in partnership with the Hawaii Children’s Action Network and funded by the Samuel and Mary Castle Foundation.
While not every family needs child care outside the home, working parents face hurdles in finding it. Nearly two-thirds of children under age 6 need care because their parents work, but state-regulated child care centers and family providers have space for only one out of four, according to the report.
Infant-toddler centers are even rarer, the report found, with no facilities on Kauai, Molokai or Lanai. Statewide, such centers can accommodate only one out of 37 children under age 3.
The good news is that Hawaii has many effective and innovative early learning programs, but there simply aren’t enough to meet demand, DeBaryshe said.
“Each and every one of us should be concerned about early learning, whether we have a young child at home or not,” she said. “And that’s because positive experiences at home, in preschool, or in child care or with babysitters, literally build the architecture of children’s developing brains.”
That sets children on a path to success in school and becoming productive adults. Early education also affects the economy because having reliable, affordable child care allows parents to work and gives employers a stable workforce, she said.
The goal of the study was to gather data on capacity and gaps in care to pave the way for action. It assessed child care centers and preschools, family child care as well as family-child interaction programs. The report was unveiled at a news conference at the Early Education Center, operated by Seagull Schools, near Honolulu Hale.
“We are leading the charge to say it’s time to come together and address this critical issue,” said Deborah Zysman, co-author of the report and the executive director of Hawaii Children’s Action Network, a nonprofit committed to educating and advocating for children.
“If lawmakers and community leaders are serious about investing in Hawaii’s future, then we need to start with children from birth to 5 and collectively find solutions to the problems addressed in the study.”
Full-time child care costs on average $7,800 at family child care providers and $9,500 at child care centers, with infant care typically running above $13,000 a year in Hawaii, according to the report.
“The federal government says that affordable child care is 7 percent of family income, total, for all your kids combined,” DeBaryshe said. “In Hawaii, the average cost for a single child is 13 percent of median family income. For just one kid, a typical Hawaii family is paying twice as much as what the federal government defines as affordable.”
Manoa resident Jenjira Yahirun came to the news conference to recount her challenges finding care for her daughters. A UH faculty member, she wound up “importing” her cousin, an experienced nanny on the mainland, to take care of her youngest daughter and to “nanny-share” with another family.
“‘Importing’ my cousin to be my daughter’s nanny has involved a number of sacrifices, both on the part of my husband and I, who now share our small apartment with our two children and my cousin, but more so for my cousin, who left her husband and better-paid job on the mainland to help take care of our baby for a year,” she said.
The report pulled together information from the child care licensing and population statistics, and surveyed every licensed child care center director, registered family child care provider and family-child interaction program.
“We got very good return rates on the surveys, we think, because people saw this as a great opportunity to let their voices be heard,” DeBaryshe said.
The report lauded family-child interaction programs, which reach many keiki not enrolled in child care and give parents and relatives guidance on child development while they play and learn with their young ones.
It also praised early childhood programs for their commitment to voluntary accreditation, noting Hawaii has one of the highest rates among the states.
The report makes policy recommendations including the following:
>> Increase the capacity of child care and preschool programs with a priority on infant-toddler seats and needy regions.
>> Reduce out-of-pocket costs, especially for low and moderate-income families, while protecting freedom of choice in selecting care.
>> Support high-quality early childhood experiences throughout the community.
>> Make strategic investments in a skilled and stable early childhood workforce.
To read the report or connect with the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, visit hawaii-can.org.