PUBLISHED: 4:53 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Southeast Alaska battles childcare crisis
AEYC's "Share the Care Campaign"
Parents all over Southeast Alaska are finding themselves in tough situations concerning childcare. There are those quitting jobs because childcare isn't available, some aren't able to relocate to better jobs due to lack of care in other regions and couples are planning pregnancies around facility availability.

Several childcare centers and family childcare homes have closed recently in Juneau, creating a childcare crisis for many working families.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Association for the Education of Young Children-Southeast Alaska "Share the Care," campaign promoters: From left, Joy Lyon, executive director, Suey Linzmeier, food program manager and Diane Sly, special projects coordinator.
Closed centers include Noah's Ark and Bright Beginnings Early Learning Center, which served over 80 families. Dancing Bear Too Montessori School just closed Thursday, May 31, due to retirement reasons, said employee Susan Kaplor.

Concerning a replacement for Dancing Bear Too, Kaplor said, "they're working on it."

"Since the beginning of July last year until now, we've had a 20 percent decrease in childcare capacity," said Joy Lyon, of the Association for the Education of Young Children - Southeast Alaska.

There are a total of 48 childcare facilities including centers, group homes, licensed homes and approved homes, with 601 capacity in Juneau.

Currently, there are only three percent total openings. As of May this year, there are no openings for children under the age of two and half in care centers in Juneau.

"Childcare has always been a chronically struggling market, in that parents can't afford to pay the full cost of care in the programs. And, the programs try to keep their costs as low as possible," she said.

"What happens is the workforce is taking the brunt of the shortage, creating market failure," she said.

In 2004, one year of childcare fees equaled nearly double the amount of one year state college fees.

"In fact, a lot of childcare providers subsidize the childcare they give because they love the kids, put in the long hours of managing a business but have caring relationships with family and friends," Lyon said.

"What we're promoting to solve this crisis are people to start family childcare programs throughout Southeast Alaska because it's not just in Juneau but the whole region."

AEYC-SEA is sending out a "Share the Care," campaign promoting with flyers, radio announcements and TV announcements on public television.

The organization will help people get started from the ground up, offering assistance, support and basic "how-to."

AEYC offers resources varying from lending library material, setting up a food program that reimburses meals and snacks, group liability insurance plans, training and technical assistance, referral services, training reimbursement programs and childcare grant information.

The question remains, why get into the business of care giving?

The main points AEYC targets in their campaign are flexibility, freedom and finance.

"The flexibility of being your own boss and managing home, family and career under the same roof," is an added plus, according to Genevieve McLaughlin, a group care provider in Juneau.

In-home programs range from five to 12 enrolled children.

"You can have it all and manage life in a more simple way," she said.

Financially you can make more money at home then at a nine to five job unless you have a huge education, McLaughlin said.

She highly recommends AEYC, and said they answer all your questions.

"There's strength and support in like-minded women," she said.

AEYC has outreach workers in Sitka, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell.

"We have no openings right now in Ketchikan," Lyon said.

"We have one licensed center and two licensed home care providers. However, one of the licensed home care providers will be leaving soon to wait for the birth of her twins," said AEYC community liaison contact, Karin McCullough of Petersburg.

"There is one other home in town that is currently winding through the licensing process. The Petersburg Children's center is currently filled up, with a wait list."

Petersburg's employment is very seasonal, which put a burden on childcare in the summer months, Mc Cullough said.

"There isn't is weekend care, we only have two providers, according to AEYC Community Liaison Krissy Smith, of Wrangell.

With Wrangell Seafoods reopening and the mill opening, "there won't be enough childcare," she said.

A familiar issue is affordability of childcare at jobs that pay a percentage.

One-hundred percent of programs in Juneau charge more than the amount child care assistance will reimburse, said AEYC.

"We watched two families of four quit they job because they couldn't afford the co-pay and go on welfare; it was really sad," Smith said.

"We're providing support to each community," food program manager Suey Linzmeier said.

AEYC is working on a childcare model in the Yakutat community school with Tlingit and Haida. They're working together to put a (childcare) clinic in the school, she said.

"It's so exciting, this is what it's all about!" Linzmeier said.

While childcare costs are expensive, parents can deal with financial issues by having a childcare center in their home, alleviating the cost of spending money themselves on care.

"We offer a lot of support--we'll help them with the whole process; we're ready to help anyone who calls right away," said special programs coordinator Diane Sly.

People that are quite successful are families with one steady income, Sly said.

Concerning how children fare in home care situations, "they learn from the beginning how to share, how have compassion and how to learn," Linzmeier said.

"When you become a childcare provider, you become such a better parent," she said.