Critical shortage of care found in Hawaiʻi’s early learning system

Cover of "Hawaiʻi Early Learning Need Assessment" reportA new report from the University of Hawaiʻi Center on the Family finds that Hawaiʻi lacks sufficient childcare and preschool seats to meet the community’s needs, and has some of the nation’s least-affordable care.

The report provides a statewide assessment of the early learning system for children from birth through age five and focuses on child care and preschool centers, family child care homes and family-child interaction learning programs.

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

Action needed

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. Hawaiʻi 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 factor

Cost is a second key concern. Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi consumes approximately 13 percent of the typical Hawaiʻi 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.

Bright spots

Hawaiʻi 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,” DeBaryshe added.

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

The study was conducted in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network with funding from the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation.

To learn more see the complete news release.