Nearly half the roughly 66,000 children under age 6 in Hawaii who have both parents in the work force aren’t receiving high-quality, affordable child care, with infants and toddlers most adversely impacted, according to a new survey by a national child care advocacy group.

Of the 35,662 licensed child care spaces available to those under age 6 in the state, only one in 10 are designated specifically for children 2 or younger, according to the Child Care Aware of America report.

“We recognize the need for more high-quality care in Hawaii for children in all age groups, especially for our infants and toddlers,” Lauren Moriguchi, director of the state’s Executive Office on Early Learning, told Civil Beat in a statement.

Pre-K teacher Colleen Uejo sits with one of her preschool students at Linapuni Elementary last year.

Suevon Lee/Civil Beat

The shortage of affordable, high-quality licensed child care is widespread across the state, but especially in rural areas, according to the report.

“Lack of physical space and the cost of expanding buildings, renting new facilities, and hiring staff prevent the expansion or introduction of child care centers,” the report states.

Until recently, the islands of Kauai, Lanai and Molokai offered no infant-toddler child care programs, according to the survey.

“We don’t have the supply to meed the demand. Part of it may be attributed to the culture in Hawaii,” said Jordana Ferreira, associate director of Hawaii child care referral agency People Attentive to Children, or PATCH Hawaii. “A lot of folks just decide to have mom and dad watch grandchildren. A lot of times it’s not feasible for working families.”

As Civil Beat has reported, the state ranks at the bottom in the country when it comes to access to public preschool. And the state has among the highest annual price tags for full-time center-based child care ($13,704 for an infant, $11,664 for a toddler).

That makes Hawaii the ninth least affordable state for center-based infant care, according to Child Care Aware, swallowing up 45 percent of median income for a single parent and 15 percent of income for a married couple.

Moriguchi said the state is working to expand access to affordable early childhood education, crucial given the brain development that happens before age 5. But there is a need to build infrastructure and offer more training.

“To ensure all programs are high-quality, we need to make a concerted effort to strengthen the workforce of early childhood care and learning providers,” she said.

In the fall, EOEL will release a strategic plan laying out the priorities and a statewide coordination of programs for infants and toddlers.

The 2018 legislative session allocated funding for an additional two positions within the EOEL, which launched Hawaii’s first publicly-funded pre-K programs in the 2014-15 school year with 20 preschool classrooms across 18 public schools statewide.

This school year, that number expanded to 26 preschool classrooms in 24 schools, for a total reach of 520 kids.

That’s only 2.3 percent of the 18,500 4-year-olds in Hawaii, although roughly 60 percent of Hawaii’s 4-year-olds attend preschool through other services like the federal Head Start program and private providers, according to the agency.

During a presentation to the state Board of Education earlier this month, the EOEL noted the challenges to expanding public pre-K include a limited workforce of qualified teachers, lack of facilities and facilities’ costs.

The office said it was working with both higher ed institutions and public high schools to expand the potential workforce of qualified early childhood educators.

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