Back to the Office: Parents struggle to find child care as school begins

Parents are struggling to find child care options in Anchorage as school starts.
Parents are struggling to find child care options in Anchorage as school starts.
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 2:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As school begins this week, many Anchorage parents are still scrambling to find afternoon child care.

Camp Fire Alaska is offering significantly fewer spots for before and after school child care.

“I would say there’s a really high anxiety for our families and our parents,” said Barbara Dubovich, chief executive officer for Camp Fire Alaska. “We hear it every day. Every single day.”

Dubovich said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp Fire served between 1,000 to 1,200 students before and after school. For a fee, the program provides a place for children to play and do homework while parents are at work. This year, she says, it’s closer to 300 to 330.

“So 30%,” Dubovich said.

What’s more, there will only be 12 Campfire locations this year, compared to 30 locations last year, she said.

“Our plan of course, of course, is to add as many kids, as soon as we are able to increase the number of sites,” Dubovich said. “What we can not clearly say today is when that will that happen.”

A lack of staff, Dubovich says, is to blame.

Instead of normal staffing levels of up to 200 people, right now there are only about 100 Campfire workers.

“What has come to light, I believe, through the pandemic is just the significant need for care,” Dubovich said. “For before and after school programs, for child care. And pre-COVID the system was what we call ‘a fragile system,’ right, it really relies on employees maybe that aren’t making a living wage. You know, that to support everything, they may have to have two or three part time jobs in order to make that work. The pandemic really brought that to light. And it’s a profession that’s supported by parent fees, right, so as we increase our wages, right, somebody has to pay for that. And affordability of child care, affordability of before and after school programs, was an issue pre-COVID. It has been for decades and the pandemic has just magnified that.”

The lack of child care across the state has impacted both school-age children, and toddlers and babies as well.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the worst it’s ever been, but it has, like, brought more eyes to the fact that child care is absolutely essential in order for all of us to continue on,” said Reanne Honemann-Queja with Thread Alaska. “Whether it’s from zero to 5 or from school (aged children). Taking care of our kids is an absolute essential.”

Honemann-Queja recommends that parents get on wait lists even if the number of people on the list is long.

“We have over 500 license programs across the state of Alaska but right now everybody is just trying to get into care,” Honemann-Queja said.

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