Thurston County is home to more than 15,000 children under the age of 5. They live in families where stay-at-home moms are the exception, not the rule.
In fact, up to 70 percent of these youngsters live in homes with all of the parents working, according to the U.S. Census Bureaus American Community Survey.
These are facts and figures that remind us just how critical top-notch, affordable child care is to the well-being and future of our community.
Heres further evidence to suggest children need more than baby sitters to watch over them while their parents work: About 85 percent of a persons brain architecture develops between birth and the age of 3. Children are born learning its not a dormant experience waiting for kindergarten to begin. The early hard-wiring of the brain through production of billions of cells and trillions of connections between those cells works best in an environment of security, low stress, healthy nutrition, social interaction and intellectual nurturing.
Think of a child care center or home child care setting as a youngsters first and perhaps most important classroom. Then consider this: Less than 4 percent of public investment in education and childhood development occur in those first three years of life.
We need to do a better job of investing in those early years, said Annie Cubberly, executive director of the Child Care Action Council, an Olympia-based nonprofit whose mission for the past 25 years has been to promote and nurture early learning communities that allow families and children to thrive in Thurston County and five surrounding counties.
Last year, 22,000 children, parents and child care providers received help from the Child Care Action Council, which relies primarily on government contracts, grants, donations and training fees for funding to support a $703,380 budget. Heres some examples of what the programs look like, by the numbers:
n Number of parents who found quality child care through the councils referral services 3,300.
Those referrals are only going to get better in the years ahead, thanks to a state Department of Early Learning program called Early Achievers.
Funded by a $60 million federal grant, the state agency works with child care providers on a volunteer basis to develop high quality early learning and child care programs that exceed state basic license requirements for child care providers. Participants will receive a rating that parents can use to pick and chose what care providers they want to entrust with their children.
Between Jan. 1, 2013 and April 1, 2013, a total of 42 child care providers in Thurston County signed up for Early Achievers training.
* Days of free child care for homeless kids 1,200.
* Number of children whose lives were made safer through the Safe Kids Thurston County program 4,800. Teaming up with Thurston County Medic One, the CCAC distributed free or discounted car seats, bicycle helmets and life jackets to children up to 14 years old.
* Number of military families receiving child care 385.
* Hours of free crisis care in a licensed child care setting 1,900.
* Number of children who received books to read daily 2,250.
* Number of child care providers who received classroom or online training to improve their skills: 1,300.
You get the idea, the CCAC is dedicated to improving the lives of children and the quality of child care in South Sound.
Theyre in it for the long haul, advocating for improved pay for child care providers. A 2012 survey by the Department of Early Learning and Washington State University found the average annual salary of a child care center teacher was $23,580. That compares to $52,227 for a K-12 teacher.
As state legislators wrestle over the next two-year budget, they must continue to support early learning and remember that a childs education begins at birth. There are untold millions of dollars in avoided costs that can be achieved in our education, law and justice and social service networks, if every child is given a chance to succeed right from the start.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com