The Child Care Conundrum: Can Oregon Step Up?

According to an informational piece on child care published by Family Forward Oregon in September 2019, Oregon is in a child care crisis “at a scale that requires a public solution.” Care is not only expensive, but it is in short supply, leaving many regions of Oregon in “child care deserts,” with citizens unable to find proper, affordable care for their children while they work.   

In fact, seven out of ten Oregon mothers with young children work outside of the home, yet only two out of five Oregonians live in a county not considered a child care desert.   

Corvallis is not immune to this growing issue, and due to COVID related issues, the industry has taken a greater hit in the past few months. A few certified child care centers were forced to permanently shut down due to the pandemic.  

Costs & Funding  

Jennie Dalgas was the director of Wonders Early Learning Center, which was forced to shut down in April, and recently shared her story in a video with Child Care Aware of America, an organization advocating for improved quality child care for all.   

Wonders Early Learning Center was hit extremely hard by COVID-19. In the weeks leading to their closure, the center had been in negotiations to move to a new, bigger building, as demand was rising. Money was tight, and in the midst of this process and having to close due to COVID, Dalgas and Wonders soon realized that permanent closure was necessary.   

Dalgas explained, “Child care is very expensive for private pay families, and it is also very expensive to operate. The cost of our staff, licensing, rent, insurance, curriculum… we barely made ends meet, sometimes not. We had a small amount in savings, but one full payroll for our staff with no incoming funds wiped that out.”  

Like Family Forward Oregon, Dalgas also said that there is not enough child care available to the public, and believes it to be an undervalued service.   

“I feel like the need is much higher for quality childcare options than there are quality programs,” she said. “There has to be a bigger emphasis on the importance of early childhood, as well as support and funding to keep them going. Child care programs should not have such tight margins that they can’t survive when things don’t go as planned. And parents should not have to pay more than their mortgage to cover the cost of care for their children.”  

Zoning Restrictions  

In Corvallis and Benton County in particular, Dalgas said that she has had issues in the past with zoning.   

“There were a lot of ‘no’s’ and ‘can’t be dones,’” she explained. “Nobody seemed to think that a childcare center could work in that building, or that part of town… The cost for approval was higher than we could afford so we had to make do with what we had.”  

At a state and city level, Dalgas said there should be more flexibility on zoning requirements. “Child care providers do not have deep pockets like other industries, to make zoning changes, building modifications, etc. and yet, the demand is high. There should be a way to make space for the things we value, and if we can’t make space, we don’t actually value them as much as we say.”  

A Cyclical System  

Other child care centers in Corvallis, like Little Beavers Preschool, were also negatively affected by the pandemic. According to director Shannon East, they initially had many concerns about how to continue and make ends meet.   

Unlike the fate of Wonders, Little Beavers was able to stay in business despite taking a large financial hit. According to East, they were lucky enough to have some personal savings and a bit of federal funding to keep themselves afloat.   

Like Dalgas, East said that there are not enough quality child care programs available to Corvallis families, though they are vital to the community, and thinks that child care is valued in Corvallis, but agreed that rates are expensive and that there is a general lack of funding and resources for early learning child care centers.   

“Child care is essential so parents can continue to work and therefore the economy can continue to survive and function,” East said. “It’s a cyclical system that is dependent upon families having care for their children in a safe and educational environment.  

“Most centers are barely able to sustain their monthly expenses even with tuition payments coming in. There needs to be more funding for certified centers, especially with requirements for 20 hours of child care training courses per year… Child care workers are some of the lowest paid professionals in our society. Yet, they have one of the most essential jobs in our community, to encourage children to positively grow within the critical first five years of their lives.”  

Social & Emotional Learning  

Dalgas and East both gave the same huge reason for why child care is so important and must be invested in: social and emotional development.   

“A child is who they will become by the age of 5. Their basic personality, moral code, and self-concept is shaped in those first critical years…,” Dalgas explained. “So, if there is so much to learn to shape a person into who they will become, these teachers are critical for the development of the future.”  

East agreed, “Social and emotional development along with physical and cognitive skill building are also essential parts to nurturing early learning. For us at Little Beavers Preschool, we foster children to have a love for learning and show kindness to others. We hope that contribution to our community can help children grow into kind adults who will further build families of their own.”  

With child care centers struggling under the financial and emotional stress of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to invest in the industry.   

Family Forward Oregon asserts, “Oregon should become a key state leader, linking with other states, to revolutionize the nation’s commitment to child care.”  

To help out local child care centers, Dalgas said that attending fundraisers, donating materials and supplies, making financial donations, and having gratitude for the industry and its employees are all much appreciated. East also suggested donating materials and supplies, as well as potentially starting a scholarship program for families who cannot afford tuition or their co-pay.   

By Cara Nixon