Washington State Representative Tana Senn recently spent two days visiting with our region’s littlest learners and Early Care and Education (ECE) providers.  In addition to playing with building blocks and listening to the latest tunes at Park Crest Early Learning Center, Rep. Senn spent time hearing from child care providers about their successes and challenges amid what many have referred to as the “child care crisis.”

Rep. Senn and child listening to music at Park Crest Early Learning Center

Since being elected in 2018 as chair of the Washington State House Human Services and Early Learning Committee, Rep. Senn has largely been focused on traveling across the state visiting Child Care Aware regions to better understand causes of and solutions to the crisis.

The “child care crisis” refers to the rising cost and declining availability of child care in Southwest Washington, across the state and across the nation. According to Child Care Aware, in 2002, Southwest Washington had over 500 child care programs. The recession saw many programs close, and today that number is around 350, a decrease of 30% and counting.

“Dedicated child care providers work hard every day to make sure our youngest Washingtonians are well cared for and enter Kindergarten ready to learn,” said Rep. Senn. “Yet, from Mt. Vernon to Vancouver, far too many families struggle to find child care or afford it, and child care providers struggle to make ends meet. This impacts families, local businesses, and the economy overall.”

During her visit to ESD 112, Rep. Senn spent time learning about this region’s Child Care Aware program, which offers free child care program referrals, and about successes in the Early Achievers program, which provides free supports and resources to child care providers enrolled in the program. Senn toured a number of child care programs as well as a 1-2-3 Grow & Learn group to see first-hand the incredible work of local ECE professionals.

After a jam-packed day, Rep. Senn hosted a roundtable meeting in the evening to hear from child care providers in the field. During this meeting, more than a dozen ESD 112 ECE staff and community partners had the opportunity to discuss various concerns and challenges they have encountered related to child care in our community in recent years.

“Representative Senn is a strong advocate for early learning and ESD 112’s Early Care and Education programs,” said Jodi Wall, ESD 112’s executive director of Early Care and Education. “With Rep. Senn’s support and leadership, I’m hopeful we will make progress in expanding access to affordable child care in our region and beyond.”

Information gathered from the visit by Rep. Senn and her staff will be used to inform her next steps in crafting legislation to support child care providers and families in Washington during the 2020 legislative session. In her time as a member of the Washington State Legislature, Senn has passed legislation to increase access to children’s mental health services, expand social-emotional learning in public schools, and provide continuous services for foster youth, among other achievements for child care and early learning.