Opinions

Child care is key in Alaska’s transition to a vibrant economy

Earlier this month, the Municipality of Anchorage transitioned leadership, welcoming a new mayor. Thread, Alaska’s Child Care Resource & Referral Network, congratulates Mayor Dave Bronson on his new position and looks forward to working with his administration to address current COVID-19 concerns and return the municipality to a vibrant local economy. Ensuring that families have access to high-quality, affordable child care is essential for our community’s recovery process and growth.

Over the past 18 months, we have experienced constant change and adapted to a new normal in our family, social and work lives. As Alaska begins to address how to transition from a state of crisis to a period of economic recovery while navigating the continuing impacts of COVID-19, employers are examining new ways to support employees while parents grapple with transitioning their children back to child care and school.

Working families are a large part of the workforce that is needed to achieve economic revitalization. Without child care, parents and caregivers can’t support their families or contribute to our local economy, and businesses can’t succeed. A strong child care infrastructure is also critical to the municipality attracting and retaining talent.

Thread thanks former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson for her efforts to support the municipality’s working families and children, including:

• Signing the municipality’s first paid parental leave policy, under which the municipality will award paid parental leave to eligible municipal employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA);

• Dedicating federal stimulus money to stabilize the municipality’s child care programs;

• Fast-tracking child care assistance grants; and

• Distributing vouchers to families in need for necessities like gas and groceries.

As we chart a new path forward, Thread looks forward to working with Mayor Bronson to continue to prioritize what families need, including options for child care and work.

In the short term, this means stabilizing the child care system by providing assistance to licensed child care programs to allow them to remain open, retain the existing workforce, and make child care more affordable to families.

At the same time, we must begin the work to transition the current market-based system, which is not affordable for families or child care business owners yet underpays the child care workforce, to a thriving system that benefits all Alaskans. We can do this by making investments in early childhood education similar to the investments we make in other education systems. The current shortage in the state’s child care workforce highlights the need to provide child care workers a livable wage, recognize child care as a profession, and acknowledge the essential role that child care plays in sustaining our economy. A successful transition in how we support child care will have long-lasting effects on the health of our community, and all Alaskans will reap the benefits. High-quality child care programs have been shown to have substantial benefits in reducing crime, raising earnings, promoting education and strengthening long-term health. Investing in child care benefits our community now by supporting working families and local businesses and protects the future of our community by providing children with a solid foundation to succeed.

Achieving a vibrant economy will require us to reenvision child care and create the necessary infrastructure to realize that vision. While we work to stabilize the child care system in the short term, we have an opportunity to transform child care to ensure it supports economic revitalization, expansion and diversification of our community for years to come. Thread is excited to work with the new administration to achieve this.

To learn more about Thread and the role high-quality child care can play in revitalizing our community, visit threadalaska.org.

Elena Romerdahl is a partner in the Anchorage office of Perkins Coie LLP, mother of two, and the current president of the Thread Board of Directors.

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