New study on Hawai`i’s early learning system finds critical shortage of care

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Barbara DeBaryshe, (808) 956-4140
Interim Director , Center on the Family
Posted: Nov 30, 2017

A new report from the University of Hawai‘i Center on the Family finds that Hawai‘i lacks sufficient childcare and preschool seats to meet the community’s needs. The report provides a statewide assessment of the early learning system for children from birth through age five and focuses on childcare and preschool centers, family childcare homes, and family-child interaction learning programs. The study was conducted in partnership with the Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network with funding from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation.

The report serves as a critical tool to evaluate and improve how Hawai‘i supports the development of all of its children. Findings reveal areas of crucial need and bright spots.  

“If lawmakers and community leaders are serious about investing in Hawai`i’s future, then we need to start with children from birth to five and collectively find solutions to the problems addressed in the study,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network and co-author of the report.

Areas in need of action include increasing the number of childcare and preschool seats. Overall, there are only enough seats to serve about one in four children, but many communities are childcare deserts with few or no options for families. The report shows there is a critical shortage of infant-toddler care. Hawai‘i has 37 children under age three for every licensed infant-toddler center seat, and some islands have no infant-toddler centers. As a result of the shortage, parents try to get on a waiting list long before their baby is born. 

Cost is a second key concern. Hawai‘i has the nation’s least affordable center-based care, relative to family income. The federal government defines affordable childcare as 7 percent of family income for all children, combined.  However, care for only one child in Hawai‘i consumes approximately 13 percent of the typical Hawai‘i family’s income. 

A third area of need is support for the early childhood providers themselves, many of whom do not earn a living wage. Some providers need access to on-site professional development and a pathway to earning a credential or college degree in the early childhood field. Finally, the cost of running a childcare program is prohibitive. Centers and family childcare providers struggle to keep tuition as low as possible while remaining a viable business.

Hawai`i’s early learning has many bright spots as well. 

“Hawai‘i has much to be proud of,” said Barbara DeBaryshe, interim director of the UH Center on the Family and lead author of the report. “We have many childcare centers with national accreditation, which is an indicator of quality. Public pre-kindergarten is growing and we have unique options such as Hawaiian language immersion, family-child interaction groups where parents and children play and learn together, and programs for children who are homeless.”

According to the study, a strong, high quality early childhood system is a necessary investment in Hawai`i’s future.  High quality early learning programs help children develop to their full potential. Reliable, affordable childcare allows parents to remain in the workforce, increasing family self-sufficiency and ensuring stability for employers.

A copy of the report can be found at 


About the University of Hawai‘i Center on the Family
The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa serves approximately 20,000 students pursuing more than 225 different degrees. Coming from every Hawaiian island, every state in the nation, and more than 100 countries, UH Mānoa students thrive in an enriching environment for the global exchange of ideas. For more information, visit

The Center on the Family is a unit within the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Its mission is to enhance the well-being of Hawai‘i’s families through interdisciplinary research, education, and community outreach. The Center also serves as the KIDS COUNT grantee in Hawai‘i. For more information about the Center, visit

About the Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network
The Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network (HCAN) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization.  It is the only non-profit in the state solely committed to educating and advocating for children.  For more information, visit