Submitted by: Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce

Since fall 2018, Guy Occhiogrosso, President & CEO of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce and I have partnered with the Opportunity Council to facilitate a Childcare Expansion Consortium to address the major issue of childcare in our community.

You may ask why the chamber of commerce would get involved with this issue.

4,464 children in Whatcom County, or about 58% of Whatcom County children under the age of five, are potentially left without the option to attend licensed childcare when their family members go to work. Photo courtesy: Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce

There are 11,578 children under five years old in Whatcom County, and 7,724 of those children have parents who work full-time. Working families need somebody to take care of their children during the day, a responsibility that is often entrusted to a licensed child care provider. However, with 41 child care centers, 44 family child care providers, and 24 school-age-only providers in Whatcom County, there are only 3,260 licensed child care slots available to children—and only 2,903 of those slots accept some form child care of subsidy.

This means that 4,464 children in Whatcom County, or about 58%, are potentially left without the option to attend licensed child care when their family members go to work. This trend is worsening. Whatcom County child care capacity dropped by 8% from 2012 to December of 2017.

Graphic courtesy: Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce

On June 13th, the Childcare Expansion Consortium had a meeting to hear updates on several projects and discuss future opportunities. We met at the former Mountain View Elementary school in Ferndale, where the Ferndale School District is interested in making the building available to childcare organizations as a facility option for early learning classrooms.

Currently, the Opportunity Council is waiting on an assessment on the plumbing in the building, which will be one of the determining factors for moving forward with opening three classrooms in the building. If they do move forward, the classrooms would most likely open in 2020. The YMCA also considered Mountain View, but has decided not to move forward with this option, as they are looking at a Lynden property to open more classrooms with full time spots.

During this meeting, we also heard from a representative from United Way, which is working on a Whatcom County Child Care Summit, to happen sometime in the fall of 2019. They are hoping to bring in representatives from major organizations in Whatcom County that work in childcare, as well as major employers in the county. Their hope is to bring in representatives from organizations outside of Whatcom County who are creating more child care options in their region.

“The Opportunity Council is doing a fantastic job of leading these [child care consortium] meetings, and providing great insight into childcare and the process of creating more availability for our community,” said Stephanie Wiley of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. Photo courtesy: Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce

We also had a discussion on how we can pinpoint the areas or communities where a childcare center or facility would be most needed or desired.

A representative from a major employer in the county expressed interest in receiving information on how much of investment a childcare center would cost versus how many spots in that facility the employer would get as a part of the investment. This is information that we believe would be valuable to many business owners, when looking into childcare center partnership.

The Opportunity Council is doing a fantastic job of leading these meetings, and providing great insight into childcare and the process of creating more availability for our community. They are hoping to facilitate a meeting with a representative from KinderCare, which is an education services firm based in Portland Oregon, which currently has childcare services in four states. This meeting would be an opportunity for our consortium to gain information on how their program partnerships work.

While we do not have the issue of childcare in Whatcom County solved, we are working hard to make as many moves toward expansion and availability as possible.

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