Child Daycare: Any solutions to Curry County’s ‘childcare desert’?

Local authorities are moving forward with plans to deal with what they’re calling a crisis in adequate daycare services in Curry and Coos counties.

The Oregon Community Foundation reports that national experts define a “childcare desert” as a community where no more than 33% of the children have access to a regulated childcare slot. Research shows that in Coos and Curry counties, fewer than 20% of the families have access to infant and toddler care.

“The crisis-level shortage of quality childcare is similar and related to the issues of the lack of housing and workforce,” said the foundation’s South Coast Leadership Council member Georgia Nowlin. “Factors such as income and low numbers of families with children in the county also contribute to this crisis.”

She said a severe shortage of qualified workers makes it nearly impossible to recruit and retain high-quality childcare providers wanting more than the industry’s prototypical low wages and lack of benefits.

In addition, “The lack of affordable housing in our area also impacts these workers at the lower end of the pay scale,” said Nowlin.

The South Coast Leadership Council of the Oregon Community Foundation consists of volunteers from both Coos and Curry counties. It has been working to address the childcare crisis.

Nowlin said that over the past year, the council has seen quality daycare centers closing their doors, including at least one in Brookings and one in Langlois, plus several other, smaller childcare providers.

“Curry County was already considered a ‘childcare desert,’ and our ability to provide infant and toddler care is at a crisis-level shortage,” she said.

The Oregon Community Foundation, the state’s largest public charity, is responding with a $500,000 multiyear investment in a new model that will shift how the childcare businesses operate.

“Our current childcare model is not working, and the impacts have been devastating for children and families throughout the south coast,” said foundation board member Penny Allen. “Too many parents are struggling to find quality childcare they can afford.

“Some are forced to work fewer hours, or not work at all, so they can take care of their children.”

By alleviating the administrative burden for childcare providers, Allen said, the community foundation hopes to increase access to cost-effective, quality childcare in Coos and Curry counties.

That “shared services” model is designed to centralize essential operational tasks such as billing, payroll and enrollment, freeing center directors and individual home-based providers to focus on children and teaching.

Nowlin said her organization spent 18 months investigating the childcare crisis and determined that a different business approach could entice more people to become providers, and would remove some of the burden of starting and operating a new business.

Meantime, the Oregon Community Foundation has approved a $50,000 grant to support the launch of a new childcare center in Bandon serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers. It is scheduled to open soon in unused space in Ocean Crest Elementary School.