May 22, 2019

Washington Parents Struggle to Juggle Work, Child Care, Family Finances

Parents of young children across Washington struggle to find and afford high-quality, licensed child care. Some areas of the state have experienced significant reductions in licensed child care capacity, while other areas grapple with child care costs that consume large portions of the median income. All areas contend with child care costs that often exceed the cost of college tuition and a state subsidy system that reimburses providers at rates that don’t cover the costs of providing high-quality care, leaving many low-income parents with few, if any, options.

Of Washington’s 39 counties, Whitman, Okanogan and Whatcom counties have the most expensive child care for an infant and a preschooler in a child care center, relative to median household incomes.1 This means that in those three counties the cost of child care for an infant and a preschooler in a child care center consumes between 39.5 – 51.9 percent of median incomes. The average cost of child care statewide for an infant and a preschooler in a center consumes 34 percent of the state median income.

Whatcom, Okanogan and Skagit counties have the most expensive child care for an infant and a preschooler in a licensed family child care home (FCC), relative to median household incomes. In those counties caring for both children consumes between 34.4 – 36.8 percent of median household incomes. Statewide the average cost of care for both children in a FCC program consumes 27 percent of the median income.

“At Child Care Aware of Washington we are working every day across the state to both increase access to child care and to help providers improve the quality of their care,” said Elizabeth Swanson, Interim Executive Director at Child Care Aware of Washington. “Clearly more investment is needed at the state and federal levels, and from the business community, all of whom directly benefit from the child care system every day when working parents show up for work on time and ready to be productive.”

The most affordable counties for child care in a center for an infant and a preschooler as a percentage of median household income are Kitsap, Mason and Island counties, where the cost of care for both children consumes between 30 – 30.7 percent of median incomes. For FCC programs, the least expensive counties are Clark, Kitsap and Thurston counties, where the costs of caring for both children consume between 23.6 and 25.3 percent of median household incomes.

Overall, the cost of child care compared to family income has risen during the past six years. Since 2011, median household income has increased 18 percent, while median child care rates have increased between 19-22 percent for center-based care and 14-22 percent for family child care.2

Several areas of the state have experienced declines in child care capacity, particularly in central WA and the Olympic Peninsula region. Jefferson County has seen a 28 percent decrease in capacity over the last six years, while Clallam County saw a 17 percent decrease. However, some counties are seeing recent increases in child care capacity, including King and Lewis Counties.

Despite the recent increase in capacity in some counties, there has been a general loss of family child care programs overall. This has reduced capacity for child care outside of normal weekday hours – care that is critical to several career fields including healthcare, public safety, travel, retail and hospitality. The percentage of overall capacity for evening, weekend and overnight care decreased from 13 percent in 2012 to only 10 percent in 2018.2

Meanwhile the reimbursement rates paid by the state to providers who accept children whose families use Working Connections Child Care subsidies have not kept pace. Despite recent investments provided by the government, the cost to provide quality child care continues to exceed the reimbursements providers receive for providing care for our most vulnerable children and families. For this reason, many providers accept only a few children at a time on subsidy, or none at all. This further restricts access to high-quality child care for low-income families. The legislature did increase these reimbursement rates for providers in the budget that passed April 28th, but not enough to fully cover the cost of quality care.

Washington ranks on the top 10 list of states with least affordable child care for almost all types of child care for all children ages 0-5, and for the cost of caring for a school-age child during the summer.3

A ReadyNation report released in January calculates the cost of America’s child care crisis is $57 billion annually in lost revenue, earnings and productivity.U.S. businesses lose approximately $4.4 billion each year due to employees missing work because of insufficient reliable child care.3  With the unemployment rate at a historical low, employers are increasingly operating with fewer employees than they need. Increased access to high-quality, affordable child care would allow more parents to enter and remain in the workforce.

Solving Washington’s child care crisis requires increased public, business and philanthropic investment in child care and early learning programs. Child Care Aware of Washington advocates for increased investment, both public and private, and for increased access to high-quality care. We work with providers to improve child care quality and help providers save time and money on the business side of their programs with our online shared business services portal Washington Child Care Business Edge.

Child Care Aware of Washington tracks child care supply, demand and costs statewide and in every county. Our data reports are available here:

Child Care Aware of Washington is a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to connecting families to local, high-quality, licensed child care and early learning programs, and to supporting providers who deliver high-quality care. As a statewide network of six regional agencies, we work side-by-side with child care providers, offering professional development services and higher education scholarships to help providers integrate research-based, best practices into their programs. We are committed to ensuring that each and every child in Washington, regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, culture, primary language or economic status, has access to the quality care and early learning they need to succeed in school and life. For more information, please visit our website at and follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @childcarewa.

To view the notes, a statewide map and the full table of county comparisons, click here.

May 3, 2019

Child Care Provider Appreciation Day

Child Care Provider Appreciation Day is Friday, May 10. While it is important to share your appreciation for your provider every day, this is a special day for making sure child care providers everywhere feel appreciated for the important work they do.

There are many ways to thank your provider and show your appreciation. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have your child make them a special card or a poster
  • Drop off breakfast or lunch
  • Give a gift card
  • Bring a special treat
  • Write a nice note

Child care providers work very long days, and often are not compensated well. For most, child care truly is a labor of love. So please make sure to let your provider know how much you appreciate all they do for your child and family. After all, what would you do without them?


May 2, 2019

Child Care Aware of Washington Play and Learn Group Featured on NW News Network

We are thrilled to have one of our play and learn groups featured in this excellent article from Northwest News Network. Child Care Aware of Washington’s Early Connections Play and Learn group is where young children can experience playing with peers and early learning while their families learn about child development and local resources. Read, or listen to, more here:

May 1, 2019

Modest Gains for Child Care & Early Learning in the 2019 Legislative Session

Child care and early learning advocates and stakeholders saw modest gains this past legislative session that ended April 28. Lawmakers passed and funded several small steps forward that provide some stability for the child care market, but there is more to do to solve the child care crisis.

The new budget provides funding for:

  • Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) rates to be increased to the 55th percentile for Early Achievers Level 3 participants
  • Investment of $6 million into additional supports and professional development for Early Achievers programs
  • 1,100 new ECEAP (state-funded preschool) slots
  • An expansion of Family, Friend and Neighbor play and learn groups
  • The Early Achievers enhancements (HB 1391) and WA CAN Act (HB 1344) bills
  • The addition of 1,200 home visiting slots to increase access to high-quality early learning for families
  • $28.5 million to match private and other public funding to buy, build or modernize facilities to add capacity for early learning programs, including ECEAP and programs participating in Early Achievers

While Child Care Aware of Washington applauds these gains and thanks the legislature for this progress, we did not see significant progress in raising the wages of child care professionals nor in the homeless grace period extension, which would have provided up to 12 months of free licensed child care for young children experiencing homelessness. We will focus on these important goals this interim as we prepare for the next legislative session.

Thank you to all of our partners and to all of the providers and parents who advocated for expanded access to high-quality child care and early learning programs. Your voices made a positive difference for children and families this session.