Big boost to child care coming to 3 Oregon counties
This article first appeared in the Linn County Reporter on page 1 of the July 2023 edition.
ALBANY — There is a drastic shortage of regulated child care for children aged birth-to-five years old in Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties, with a shortfall of approximately 4,500 child care slots, according to recent data collected by the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments.
That shortage leads to problems for employers in workplace staffing, community challenges with economic development and negative effects for residents leaving parents struggling with a lack of child care availability and high cost.
To address this, Family Connections-the Child Care Resource and Referral agency of Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties-is spearheading Growing Care, a new initiative to increase the capacity of licensed child care by expanding opportunities to start a child care business out of one’s home.
"This is a win-win situation for everyone," said Bryan Steinhauser, the project manager of Growing Care. "We're creating more child care programs, which the community desperately needs. But we're also supporting motivated entrepreneurs to start their own small businesses. And Family Connections is going to set these new child care businesses up for success with everything needed to create a high quality, profitable child care program."
As the father of four year-old twins, Steinhauser and his wife, Chelsie, understand the need for child care on a personal level.
“My wife and I make pretty good money but child care is still ridiculously expensive,” Steinhauser said. “Despite me working within the system and knowing exactly where to look, we will struggle with finding child care. We spend $18,000 a year for our twins, but knowing how the system works, I still consider us lucky. Most other families have it a lot worse than us.”
In Linn County, only 7 percent of children up to age two have potential access to regulated child care and 19% of 3-to-5-year-olds. In Benton County that is 21% and 45% and Lincoln County 4% and 29%.
In Linn County, there is a 3,773 child care slot shortfall, 850 in Benton County and 775 in Lincoln County. The average cost of child care in Oregon is $13,000 per year. All 36 Oregon counties are classified as “child care deserts.”
According to Steinhauser, a “child care desert” exists where there are at least three times as many birth-to-age-five children or more for every regulated child care slots in local child care programs.
Nationwide, businesses lost $3 billion annually due to employee absenteeism due to child care issues. In each year between 2016 and 2018, more than two million parents of children ages five and younger had to quit a job, not take a job or greatly change their job due to child care issues.
Growing Care wants to recruit anyone with a suitable residence who loves children and wants to work from home, especially among existing unregulated, licensed-exempt child care providers, new parents planning a leave of absence from their professional careers to raise their own children, and retirees wanting to earn extra income.
“With Growing Care, getting licensed is easier than ever before,” explains Lynnette Wynkoop, the Director of Family Connections. “We’re going to walk everyone through the process to make it as pain-free as possible. We will support new businesses to access grants of up to $15,000 to cover startup costs. We are providing formal business training and scholarships for education. A support network will be available to mentor new providers on a personal level. We want our potential child care providers to know they’re not alone out there, this choice won’t be a gamble for them, we’re doing everything we can to remove barriers so they can create a new, thriving, successful business, free of debt.”