Report Finds ‘Extreme Lack’ of Child Care Programs and Slots Across Oregon

Portland State University
Beth L. Green, Ph.D. Research Professor, Director of Early Childhood & Family Support Research Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services School of Social Work, Portland State University

Researchers say the state needs to invest in culturally appropriate care — and relax requirements for child care providers

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Rural families, especially immigrants, are more likely to put their children in the care of relatives than to use traditional child care, according to a report released last month by the state’s Early Learning Division.

Researchers interviewed 81 families and found an “extreme lack of available child care programs and slots, long waiting lists, and lack of options for families who work weekends, evenings, and part time exacerbates racial and other inequities in access to quality care.”

The study is the third in a series of studies on the state of child care, following two others conducted in 2019 and 2020. This year’s study focused on the qualitative experiences of Oregon families seeking care.

Researchers published an executive summary along with three reports on specific populations: LGBTQIA+ families, families with infants and toddlers and families with a child who has been suspended or expelled from day care.

In the report’s executive summary, researchers said the state needs to:

  • Make child care more affordable, especially care for infants and toddlers;
  • Build easily accessible, multilingual options to help families research child care options;
  • Invest in a diverse array of child care options and hire a more diverse roster of providers;
  • Change the way child care providers are hired, paid and supported;
  • Invest in training, coaching, education and quality improvement;
  • Work to reduce bias and discrimination among providers.

Researchers found severe lack of child care options in rural frontier areas of the states as well as significant challenges for Spanish-speaking parents looking for child care. Families who participated in the study said they had left their jobs, shifted their schedules or reduced their hours to keep their kids in child care. Many were simply unable to find it, relying instead on family caregivers.

“We found people are relying on family, friends or neighbor care, but it’s often it’s a compromise in quality,” Beth Green, co-author of all three studies and director of early childhood and family support research at Portland State University, tells Oregon Business. “You know that your sister is not going to discriminate against your kid or call them bad names or bully them, or let bullying happened to them — but you also know that your sister might be more likely to plop them down in front of the TV for a couple of hours.”

Current certification requirements for childcare providers also put barriers between people able to provide high-quality child care and the families that need their services. Licensed child care providers are not required to have a Bachelor’s degree, though some state and federally-funded preschool programs require an Associates Degree.  The state should be less focused on upfront requirements and more focused on providing adequate support and ongoing training to people who want to enter the field, or are already working in it.

Green also says the private sector will need to play an increased role in offering childcare solutions, and that some larger Oregon companies have been paving the way for other businesses to follow.

“There are lots of things private businesses could do to support child care access for their employees. Nike has built their own early childhood center on its campus, and has got one of the best early learning centers in the state for its employees. A lot of businesses that can’t do that but there’s probably more that could, and should,” Green says.

Green says small and mid-sized companies could invest in onsite child care providers to help with employee child care needs.

In addition to adjusting state requirements and action by the private sector, Green says federal support is still going to be crucial for developing Oregon’s childcare system, and making child care more equitable and affordable.

“Biden had to cut all of the sort of early childhood and family support kind of pieces out of his original Build Back Better act, so in terms of federal dollars, it’s going to come down to whether the Democrats will hold onto power, because I feel like if they do they’ll continue these safety net programs.

The division’s 2020 study focused on the impact of COVID-19 on providers and families. Researchers surveyed 2,105 parents found that a majority — 59% — of families with children in child care had experienced major disruptions to care, and that Black parents were much more likely than other groups to experience disruptions, with 73.8% of Black or African American parents saying they had lost care.

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