In Juneau, there are nearly 2,500 kids under six, but despite the fact that most parents in our town cannot afford to stay at home, there are only 519 licensed child care slots. This shortage impacts local businesses as well as families, and acts as an economic development barrier for the community as a whole.

The issue with child care in Juneau is not a recent development. Seven months pregnant with my first child, we began our hunt for child care. I had an incredible job and assumed everything would easily fall into place. I instead discovered that there was not a single infant care slot in Juneau available for us. Unable to work, we ended up moving away for several years.

With our second child we figured we had cracked the code. At six weeks pregnant—before I had told my friends or family I was even expecting—we signed up at every child care facility in Juneau.  Despite this—our son didn’t get a spot until he was nearly a year old (and some of the centers didn’t call us with any openings until he was two.) According to the Alaska Child Care Market Price Survey Report, there are nearly 400 kids on the child care waiting lists in Juneau – but some child care providers tell me that their waiting lists became so long, they dispensed with them altogether. Providers are overwhelmed by hundreds of phone calls from parents they cannot help.

Lack of housing availability may shoulder much of the blame. Juneau’s housing shortage drives the price of housing up, which in turn drives up the cost of living in Juneau. The high cost of living means that in most cases, both parents need to work. In Juneau, 69% of moms with kids under six are working. The high cost of rent is also a budget breaker for child care centers already operating with a narrow to non-existent profit margin.

Due to time and energy limitations, parents of kids five and under are rarely able to advocate for themselves. They are caring for young children, working fulltime, and often having to piece together multiple child care scenarios—but actions can speak louder than words.

Despite a growing overall Juneau population and a national demographic trend of baby boomers having grandchildren—Juneau’s infant to four year old population decreased by two percent between 2012 and 2013. Is a lack of local child care driving young families to leave Juneau? A recent national study shows that 85 percent of working US parents say they would forego higher paying jobs, vacation time, or medical benefits in order to secure reliable child care. We do not want to put Juneau parents in a position where they have to choose between living here and leaving town to find child care.

In most other ways, Juneau is one of the best places in the world to raise a child—with our close-knit community, incredible outdoors, and wonderful kid-focused activities. Fortunately, creative solutions to increase child care are being explored. The City and Borough of Juneau is funding the HEARTS Initiative, offering education incentives to recruit and retain qualified child care teachers. Partnerships for a Healthier Juneau and the local child care advocate group, AEYC, are working to find subsidized or donated space that can be used as a new child care center, and they are looking for businesses that want work together to develop a single child care center for their employees.

When child care works, a community is healthier and more economically sound. We need to come together to make sure working families in Juneau have a safe healthy place for their kids to grow and learn.