A new report from The Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg, Oregon examines approaches to addressing systemic inequities in Oregon’s child care system. Oregon has struggled with child care availability for years. In 2019, 90 percent of the state was designated a child care desert by the Center for American Progress. The impact of COVID-19 has made these conditions worse: statewide child care capacity is down nearly 25 percent since March 2020.
This report shines a light specifically on the child care needs in rural Oregon and offers five recommendations to help stabilize care funded by the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS). These include:
Cost-Based Reimbursement Rates: State reimbursement rates have typically been based on market prices influenced by regional incomes. This leads to higher reimbursement rates in regions with higher household incomes, such as Multnomah County. But the cost of providing care — including wages, insurance, supplies, and equipment — differs little in urban and rural parts of the state. If the cost of providing care remains relatively consistent from county to county, but rural counties receive lower reimbursements because their regional incomes are lower, then providers in rural Oregon are at a significant disadvantage. The report recommends calculating reimbursements based on costs.
Lower Family Co-Payments: Family co-payments for child care do not vary across the state and are based on income and family size. Additionally, the state’s payment for child care is often significantly lower in rural counties compared to urban counties, but parent co-payments don’t vary. Additionally, other state programs, including Baby Promise, Preschool Promise, and Head Start do not require copays from families. The report recommends waiving or significantly lowering co-payments for families.
Stable and Consistent Funding: The report recommends that reimbursements be based on enrollment, and administered as slot contracts, versus basing reimbursements on attendance. ODHS moved to this approach during the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding that attendance-based reimbursements would hurt many child care providers. The report recommends making this policy permanent, as well as establishing contracts with providers for yearly slots in advance, both of which would help ensure stability for children and families and help ensure quality.
Support for Provider Networks: Regional networks for providers could help streamline administrative tasks and help provide flexibility for smaller providers across the state. The Shared Services Alliance in Coos and Curry counties launched recently to help ease the contracting process for providers and help stabilize the number of available slots for families.
A Regulatory Framework: Some rural child care providers struggle with finding teachers and staff that meet state licensing standards, creating administrative challenges and obstacles for families seeking care. Adopting a regulatory framework for small sites enrolling under 16 children and allowing smaller non-residential locations to be licensed as Certified Family Child Care Homes, could significantly improve access to child care in rural Oregon.