Parents, providers feel the pinch in state's 'child-care crisis'

TACOMA, Wash. -- Any parent can tell you good child-care is hard to find.

But a child-care crunch in Washington is making any care - not just good care - tough.

And finding a licensed provider to watch your infant? Sometimes, it feels impossible.

Q13 News heard from parents who struggled to find care, talked with a major child-care advocacy group in the state and learned what steps lawmakers are taking to ease what many are calling a "child-care crisis."

The daunting "list"

There's hardly a dull moment in Kelly Blucher's life. Whether it's taking care of her three kids - 12-year-old Justice, 3-year-old Mason or 22-month-old Kennedy - or working her full-time managerial job, life is always busy.

"People say to me all the time, 'you're a super mom,'" Blucher said. "I'm not. I'm a normal mom."

Blucher was a stay-at-home mom for her two youngest children until 2017. That's when her landlord raised her and her partner's rent $500-a-month.  Blucher quickly realized she'd have to return to work.

"Going back to work was an incredibly tough decision," Blucher said. "But we live in a society where you have to have a two-person income."

Blucher called Child Care Aware of Washington. Child Care Aware of Washington is a non-profit that connects parents with care and works to support care solutions. She got a list of 49 licensed care providers within a 5-mile radius of her house.

She called. And called. And called. The entire list. Looking for someone to watch, at that time, 4-month old Kennedy and 1-year-old Mason.

"Twenty phone calls later, 25 phone calls later, I was just in tears," Blucher said. "At that point I'm thinking I can't find childcare."

The mother of three ran headfirst into what many are calling a child-care crisis in Washington.

The difficulty of finding care

Ryan Pricco is the director of policy and advocacy for Child Care Aware of Washington. He says the agency fields dozens of calls from people everyday for those struggling to find any sort of help.

Across the state - from big city to small town - child care is tough.

"The crunch is being felt everywhere," Pricco said. "Seattle is having issues with how great the economy is. You go out to Matawa, Washington and there's no licensed programs."

The numbers are daunting. About one-third of the state's 300,00 kids that need child-care get licensed care. King Pierce and Snohomish counties have all lost providers since 2013. The average cost of infant care is higher than the average state college tuition; around $1,500 a month.

And in Seattle, it's even higher.

"Seattle infant rates are about $2,500 a month right now," Pricco said. "And that's if you can get through a waiting list. A lot of these programs charge you to be on a waiting list."

For Blucher, waiting didn't work. She called the list through a second time. She found a spot for her infant and toddler - across town from each other. Morning drop-offs became an hour-and-a-half ordeal.

"We crossed the entire city before I got to work every morning," Blucher said.

Blucher faces other problems. A promotion and raise at work meant she lost some of her child-care subsidies, part of a "benefits cliff," she said. Money issues extend to providers, too. Licensing, fees, regulations - all cut into providers' profits.

"Anybody that's actually trying to provide childcare is losing money doing it," Blucher said.

Possible fixes?

Lawmakers are working to fix a gap in early childhood care. A bill making its way through the state Legislature could change subsidy rates, allowing struggling parents to avoid the "benefits cliff."

On a federal level, Senator Patty Murray re-introduced her Child Care for Working Families Act earlier this year. But the bill has yet to advance far.

Outside of waiting lists - sometimes necessary a year or more in advance - something needs to be done.

"If we don't collectively come together as a state or a society to start figuring out a way to better support the child-care industry, we're going to get less programs available," Pricco said. "And higher rates for private families and more and more kids entering K-12 schooling not ready for school."

For more help with child-care issues, visit Child Care Aware of Washington's website.