Statewide, licensed child care centers only have the capacity to serve 17% of children under the age of 13, according to research from a task force looking at child care issues.

An ongoing effort by the Child Care Collaborative Task Force is intended to highlight where improvements are needed. The group kicked off a statewide assessment last week intended to map gaps in services and detail how closely centers are meeting families’ needs.

“Too many working parents in Washington are either paying more than they can afford for quality child care or struggling to find an affordable, safe place to provide care for their children,” state Commerce Director Lisa Brown said in a news release about the study launch.  The problem is affecting economic productivity, she added.

The group will report its findings to the Legislature in July. It expected to provide a more detailed view into what is considered a “broken market.” Child care issues cost employers statewide $2 billion in 2017 from employee turnover, according to an October report commissioned by the panel.

Nationally, Washington has the sixth-highest share of people living in child care deserts of all states, according to the Center for American Progress. The think tank defines deserts as “any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.”

Under the definition provided by the Center for American Progress, much of Whatcom County is a child care desert.

In Whatcom County, there are 8,070 children younger than 5 who are in households where all parents work full-time, according to Census data and a Child Care Aware report released in October.

But there are licensed child care slots for just 45% of them, possibly leaving 4,462 Whatcom children of that age group without access to licensed child care when their parents go to work.

“Finding and paying for child care in Whatcom County is extremely difficult and the number of quality licensed child care slots is limited and overwhelmingly expensive,” the Child Care Aware report states.


The statewide assessment comes after the task force released its first report of recommendations for Legislature late last month – an extensive list of potential incentives or support for the struggling child care industry spanning roughly 25 pages.

Employer support of child care, retention of existing centers, efforts to streamline the launch of new centers and avenues to reduce disparities in child care access and delivery were the focus of the report.

Key recommendations included:

  • Developing local networks of substitute pools to enable professional development and time off for child care workers.
  • Providing professional development in accessible formats and a variety of languages.
  • Administrative support, technical assistance and mentorship for child care startup and expansion.
  • More access to grants, loans and financial assistance to better handle unanticipated costs, curbing the rise of tuition.
  • Creating tax incentives for businesses providing child-care benefits to employees.
  • Providing tax exemptions for furniture, linens, infant care products, books and administrative supplies used by child care providers.
  • Streamlining licensing pre-approval for facility development.
  • Reworking child-care subsidy thresholds to eliminate steep co-pays for families just above the eligibility threshold.
  • Expanding subsidies to include moderate and even middle-class families.
  • Adjusting the provider subsidy rate to fully cover the cost of child care, encouraging a living wage for providers.

Several items require further study, the report said.