EVERETT. Wash. – Instant panic. That’s how August McKenna described the message he got from his child’s daycare.
Way to Grow Early Learning Center in Everett announced this week that they’ll close their doors to parents and kids on July 29th – McKenna and roughly 50 other families were given 17 days notice to find an alternative plan for their kids, as waitlists at nearby facilities are months long.
“We don’t’ have a plan yet,” McKenna told me bluntly with a nervous laugh as he recounts a whirlwind week of phone calls, emails, scheduling tours and calling elected officials.
McKenna said he’s one of the lucky parents. Both he and his wife Mary’s work have indicated they’ll support them as they try to make a plan. They’re quick to point out, others aren’t as lucky.
“That’s not an infinite license to be a stay-at-home parent and work from home for 6 months until a daycare slot opens up,” said McKenna. “I still have obligations to my employers I need to satisfy.”
According to Liz Steele, the director of the business, the business had a lengthy waitlist of it’s own. She was surprised by the news herself. She knew that a lease agreement was coming up in September, however, didn’t know the facility would close until the general manager notified her on Monday – one day before a letter went out of parents saying they, “hit some major snags with our lease renewal.”
Steele is one of 14 employees who will lose their job when the business closes. A handful of people will likely stay on to earn a paycheck while the business holds a liquidation sale. Then, like the parents, they are out of work. Steele, and others, will also be looking for a childcare services as a number of employees have children that relied on Where We Grow, as well.
“It’s terrible for families, it’s terrible for staff – no one wins in this situation,” said McKenna.
The term “childcare crisis,” was used often as the pandemic shrank access to services around the United States. Those who follow the industry, note: it was struggling before COVID-19.
According to Washington’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force, half a million children in Washington didn’t have access to licensed child care before the pandemic. That lack of affordable child care is keeping more than 130-thousand potential workers out of the workforce too.
In Snohomish County, 39-percent of families lacked licensed childcare per the group’s 2020 report.
Since then, issues have gotten worse.
In March, Snohomish County had to step in to help fund the Everett Community College Early Learning Center. If they hadn’t the center was slated to close – it’ll remain open at least through the 2022-2023 school year providing access to students, staff and community members.
At the time, the Snohomish County Executive noted that access to quality childcare is critical to the county’s economic recovery mission.
McKenna, in-between trying to find childcare for his child, has been e-mailing elected officials in hopes of garnering a similar type of help for his son’s early learning center – one county commissioner noted that the situation is different from Everett Community College because Way to Grow is a private business.
McKenna was told that the county is working to assist day cares in opening and training – but he was told he should get on wait lists and call other facilities while he awaits additional information on any potential help.
“I know there’s many, many rules about evictions regarding landlords for tenants living in a property,” said McKenna. “I think it’d be reasonable to say when, or how you closer services like this. I doubt this particular issue cropped up this month. It could have been forecasted.”
FOX 13 has reached out to the owner of the business in an attempt to understand when it became clear that the business would stop operating, but with more than 50 parents searching for child care services in a region that has limited supply – those answers won’t mean much to McKenna.
He, and others, remain hopeful that someone will step-in and save the business, or find a way to keep staff and families under one-roof. In the meantime, there’s a mad scramble to find babysitters, nannies, openings at day cares and phone calls to family members.
McKenna said most sites won’t tell him how long their waitlist is until he goes on a tour, but those who’ve been open have given him ballparks from October, to beyond 6 months.