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A new report from Oregon State University shows that as of March 2020, all 36 counties in Oregon are considered “deserts” in child care for infants and toddlers, which means it there are at least three children under the age of 2 for each available childcare space. in the county.

Researchers say the report, based on data collected before COVID-19, will serve as a useful benchmark to highlight how the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges facing Oregon families with young children.

“This report confirmed what families understand: there isn’t enough child care, period, but there really is a crisis when it comes to infant and toddler niches,” said Megan Pratt, Assistant Professor of Practice at OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the report, released today. Michaella Sektnan at OSU was its co-author.

The report builds on Pratt’s 2019 Comprehensive Review of Oregon Day Care Centers, which showed a similar landscape: All 36 counties were child care deserts for the 0-2 age group, while 25 counties were deserts for children aged 3 to 5.

The biennial reports are funded by the state’s early learning division as part of the Oregon Child Care Research Partnership with the goal of educating state decision makers about the state current availability of child care services in Oregon, particularly the lack of options for infants and toddlers and the role of publicly funded programs in filling these gaps, in especially in rural areas.

The new report found that while the total amount of state-licensed child care services increased by 588 slots between 2018 and 2020, and the estimated number of children under 5 declined by around 13,000 , statewide, the availability of child care services in Oregon remains limited. Twenty-five of Oregon’s 36 counties are also deserts for preschoolers ages 3 to 5, and for infants and toddlers ages 0 to 2, half of the counties in the Oregon are considered “extreme” deserts, with at most one child care place for each child. 10 children of this age group.

The figures show that public investment is playing a key role in expanding the supply of child care services in Oregon. Between 2018 and 2020, increased state funding led to the creation of 817 state-funded child care spaces across the state, which is part of the overall growth. Publicly funded slots now account for 19% of Oregon’s total child care supply.

“This report highlights why Oregon must continue to invest in child care and focus on strategies that strengthen our offer of affordable, high-quality child care services and ensure the support of our existing programs,” said Alyssa Chatterjee, acting director of systems for the Oregon Division of Early Learning. “Many families are struggling to access high quality child care, and we are eager to address the issue.

The report pulled data from a variety of sources, including regulatory databases for statewide child care provider licensing information, and the Oregon Division of Early Learning. , which administers public programs such as Head Start, Preschool Promise and Baby Promise.

Researchers looked at data from March 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic, and found a continued decline in the number of small slots for home child care providers. This decline has largely resulted in the overall loss of childcare places, as large daycares cannot fully compensate for the lack of places at home.

Home-based providers play a vital role in Oregon’s child care provision, said Pratt, with many families seeking home settings for more culturally appropriate care for their children. But suppliers often have financial difficulties.

“It’s really hard to make it work from a business standpoint because vendors don’t make a lot of money for what they do,” said Pratt. “It’s hard to bring new people into the field and say ‘I want to be a small home provider.’ “

Pratt said the new report was a good starting point for bigger questions and more in-depth analysis, as the existence of child care spaces is just one obstacle for many families.

“Childcare places may exist, but are not accessible for a variety of reasons. When other research asks what these barriers are, the main one is affordability, ”she said.

Other barriers to access include daycare hours of operation, which may not match parents’ night or weekend hours; linguistic and cultural compatibility; and finding care that meets the needs of children with delays or disabilities.

Oregon is working to expand access and availability of child care, with laws like the Student Success Act allocating more funding to early learning and programs like Preschool Promise, which provide services care and education for children at 200% or less of the federal poverty line. .

“While this report shows that we still have a long way to go, I am encouraged that the essential role of child care is receiving more attention than before,” Chatterjee said. “It is widely recognized that child care is something we all need to tackle together.

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