Chef Ruth holds a young child at the Inspire Early Learning CenterA baby appears joyful during music time at the Inspire Early Learning Center Ms. Carolyn interacts with her young student at the Inspire Early Learning Center.

By Katy Yoder

The childcare desert dilemma — that’s how Katy Brooks, president of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, describes the challenge for working moms and dads in Central Oregon who are trying to earn a living and provide care for their children while at work. 

As the population here grows, so do the difficulties in securing childcare that fosters a healthy economy and lifestyle for working families. Brooks cited a recent Bend Chamber of Commerce survey that revealed a full 97 percent of employees are having difficulties finding childcare, and 42 percent of employees spend at least half their paychecks on safe, quality care for their children. 

The problem is on the Bend City Council’s radar too. Solutions and the problems associated with the childcare crisis will take multiple approaches to solve. It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy. 

Not only is this a dire problem for our economy, it can be devastating for families, many of whom are working to support their families to move out of generational poverty—a perpetual state for generations of families that spurs housing and food insecurity and can lead to stressful circumstances that in turn encourage substance abuse and depression. 

For TRACEs, supporting solutions to the childcare desert dilemma is a deeply impactful way to nurture a resilient community that supports people, helping people to navigate out of generational poverty and fostering a new generation of children that have reduced impacts of trauma from the circumstances of their childhoods, or ACEs (adverse childhood experiences).

Not only does TRACEs support the work of the Chamber and the City of Bend, its partners are contributing to the conversation by ensuring that the childcare facilities that do exist are trauma-informed and focused on nurturing the children, families and employees they touch. 

TRACEs partner Kara Tachikawa is supporting this work in two important ways. She’s the executive director at Inspire Early Learning Centers (IELC), and she travels around Central Oregon for TRACEs, teaching how to integrate trauma-informed practices into a variety of environments including childcare facilities. 

Between IELC’s two state-certified childcare centers, Tachikawa oversees the care of over 150 children and their families. She knows one of the important components needed for success is an understanding of how to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment. That goes for her employees too. 

IELC provides care for infants through preschool age children. The IELC has one teacher for every four children under two years old and one teacher for every five children in their two-year-old class, ensuring every baby and toddler there receives love, time and attention. As early as they can, the IELC encourages the infants and toddlers in their care to explore their world through art. They also encourage preschoolers from three to five years old to embark on daily adventures at school. Through these adventures, the children can share the joy of learning with their friends as they acquire academic, social and physical skills that help them prepare for kindergarten. IELC’s staff of teachers and assistants plus two therapy dogs named Ezra and Tobie are trained and passionate about giving their young charges the best start in life. 

Statistically at least 60 percent of the staff has trauma from their childhoods, which can show up in behavior or low performance on the job, said Tachikawa. By fostering a trauma-informed environment at IELC Tachikawa is fostering resiliency in her employees and everyone else involved with IELC. 

“Internally, we’ve been integrating what TRACEs teaches about trauma-informed approaches for our employees, parents and their children,” said Tachikawa, who has also done trainings in a variety of environments including the Crook County School District and the Deschutes Public Library system. “I serve as a resource for the community which means TRACEs is reaching lots of different areas and sectors.” 

Spreading the word about the impacts of ACEs and how to support healing is progressing. But in Central Oregon’s current childcare crisis, finding a safe, healthy and affordable place to care for children is often an exhausting and frustrating process. 

Hearing the staggering number of people on IELC’s waiting list tells the story. There are currently 500 families on the IELC waiting list. For upcoming newborns to 12-month-olds, they have 95 families on a waiting list but only eight available spots.

Supporting childcare providers is also an important element in solving the childcare crisis. 

The pressure of running a business along with trying to meet the needs of so many deserving families can be overwhelming. Many childcare providers started their businesses because they love children. When confronted with complicated and overwhelming business-related challenges, some have chosen to close their doors. 

Brenda Comini, Better Together’s Early Learning Hub Director and Karen Prow, NeighborImpact’s Associate Director of Childcare Resources, sat down with us to discuss what’s being done now and in future programs. 

They’re initiating innovative ideas designed to offer solutions that keep childcare providers in business. Both women know it’s important to remain nimble and adaptive as they design a program that addresses the current business climate. 

“The focus of our work known as Shared Services was designed to stem the tide of childcare providers that were, are and will leave the business,” said Prow. “Most are passionate about kids and want to help families but are bogged down in managing the business side of their job. We support their business practice so they can afford to do it without jeopardizing their own personal finances and needs.”

Both women agree, today’s childcare issues are modern problems that require modern solutions. Help for childcare providers is multi-tiered. It includes providing evaluations of a provider’s current business practices, technical assistance, consultation, general information and training, which all serves to modernize systems like increasing options for collecting payments. 

Another area of concern for childcare providers is having a qualified pool of substitutes available.  Sharing a sub pool of qualified substitutes when they don’t have anyone on standby is invaluable.

 “The sub pool alone is so important,” said Comini. “If there’s 10 children in the care facility, how does the caretaker take a break? Having a sub pool reassures the child and makes them feel secure. Childcare providers get burned out if they aren’t taking care of themselves. With a reliable, qualified sub pool, they can do additional training and have sick leave.”

Solutions to the childcare crisis are emerging. TRACEs partners are at the forefront of efforts to free parents up to work full-time without overburdening their bank accounts and removing some of the stressors associated with being a working parent. We look forward to continuing to share out on their progress and celebrating their homegrown ingenuity and perseverance to address this multi-pronged challenge.