Heritage University opens new Early Learning Center amid childcare shortage


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TOPPENISH, Wash. — Heritage University is taking a step toward addressing a childcare shortage in the Lower Yakima Valley with its new Early Learning Center, which will replace its older, existing facility.

The center serves children who are 1 year old up to toddlers needing pre-kindergarten care and houses two Early Childhood Assistance (ECAP) classrooms. The new building features an additional classroom, giving them the space for 14 more children.

Heritage University Early Learning Center executive director Claudette Lindquist said while the center’s location on campus is convenient for faculty and staff, it’s a critical resource for students.

“One of the number one reasons that young women especially drop out of college is because of childcare issues, so to be able to offer that childcare is the most important thing to us,” Lindquist said.

Lindquist said it’s especially important now, when families are struggling with a shortage of childcare options, which is partially due to the number of smaller centers that closed during the pandemic — and won’t be returning.

“I’ve actually been doing this for 40 years and in 40 years, this is the absolute worst I’ve ever seen it,” Lindquist said. “As everybody is going back to work, I fear that we’re gonna see even more shortages.”

Lindquist said many of the centers that are still open are struggling to stay open, due to inflation and its impact on their communities. She said running a childcare center is more expensive than people may realize.

“I know that parents see the tuition and say, ‘Oh, well, that amount times this many kids, they’re rolling in money,’ but they don’t understand the rent or the mortgage or what the utilities are, the payroll that goes into that,” Lindquist said.

Additionally, with how spread-out the Lower Valley is and the high concentration of low-income families, access to transportation can be a barrier stopping those families from accessing the nearest childcare center.

“Most standalone centers can’t offer transportation,” Lindquist said. “If we didn’t subcontract our ECAP program from the ESD 105, we wouldn’t be able to do transportation for them either.”

Lindquist said when parents cannot find affordable childcare that’s accessible to them, they have limited options. She said some of those options may cause those families to experience additional stress on their finances or put their children in danger.

“We worry about those children, who are probably in some other kinds of care, maybe another group that’s possibly not licensed,” Lindquist said. “We worry about the safety for that, you know, that’s what parents worry about, and I do too.”

Lindquist said that’s why being able to care for even one more child at the Early Learning Center can make a huge difference. She said they’ll be using the old building until the permit comes through for the new one, which they anticipate happening by the end of February.

More information about the Early Learning Center and how to apply is available here. Lindquist said they do have spots open for new kids and applications are open.

“I’m glad we’ll be able to accommodate 14 more,” Lindquist said. “But clearly in the Valley, we all need a lot more options for childcare,” Lindquist said.

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