More than 50 child care providers and parents packed the room at the Seasonal Child Care rules hearing in Anacortes earlier this month.
They did so to voice their opposition to proposed changes to the child care assistance program serving Washington agricultural workers. Among these proposals, the Department of Early Learning (DEL) would move the on-the-ground administration of Seasonal Child Care from organizations in the community to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
The Seasonal Child Care program provides child care assistance for about 2,200 seasonally employed agricultural workers each year. The program was created to ensure the safety of young children while their parents work. When the state contracted with trusted community organizations to manage the program, it ensured culturally competent service in families’ native languages.
When state agencies make changes to the way that programs are implemented, they seek public input at hearings like these. The hearings are usually sparsely attended, so the turnout for this hearing is especially notable. Overwhelmingly, people testified that DEL should not transfer these services to DSHS and make the related rule changes. They said that mistrust and fear of state government would prevent eligible families from seeking child care assistance through DSHS. Advocates cited some families’ experience of poor treatment and lost paperwork as huge deterrents for families seeking services at the agency.
Other barriers also exist. One child care provider serving families who speak only a local dialect indigenous to Latin America, has at times had to accompany them to meetings at DSHS so that they can communicate. Without these local connections, some agricultural workers will be unable to access services. Agricultural businesses are also concerned that families will not return to the farm for regular seasonal work without child care.
But the consequences of these proposed changes will fall hardest on the children.
At the hearing, individuals told heartbreaking stories of children left unsupervised, not because parents didn’t care, but because they had no other options. Among the testimony were accounts of an older daughter who would be forced to quit school to care for younger siblings; of an unsupervised boy who was scalded when he spilled a bowl of hot water on himself; and of a child who fell into a ditch and drowned.
Eliminating culturally competent and responsive services to people who work hard to support our economy is not in keeping with Washington’s values.
The proposed rules would go into effect on July 1. While the public comment period is over, there is still time to urge the Governor, the Department of Early Learning, and the Legislature to make choices that promote the care we want for kids and families. To learn of more opportunities to get involved or voice your concerns, please contact Children’s Alliance’s Early Learning Policy Director Leslie Dozono.
*Photo above courtesy of SEIU 925