The objective of the Sitka Health Summit is to turn priorities into action. Saturday’s Childcare Awareness Fair was a first step in developing a solution to Sitka’s critical shortage of childcare. (Sitka Health Summit/Osborne)

Like many other communities in the state, Sitka is suffering a shortage of childcare, verging on crisis. In September, the Sitka Health Summit Coalition identified childcare as one of its two goals for the year, in the hope of finding a fast track to a solution. Last Saturday (10-22-22), the coalition held a Childcare Awareness Fair to pull together resources, parents, providers, and children in one room, and to start the process.

Coalition member Kari Sagel attended, and sent this audio postcard.

Hi, my name is Joel Warner, and I’m the minister for the Sitka Church of Christ. My wife and I are also starting an in-home daycare here in Sitka. It is a process. I just wanted to let everybody know it is difficult, but I think the ultimate goal outweighs the difficulties right now. Because our children are the future.

I’m Andrea Colvin, and we came today, because we have a one-and-a-half year old daughter, and it took a full year on a waitlist to get childcare. So it’s something that’s pretty important to our community.

Sagel – So you’re situated now? You have childcare? What does that mean for your family?

Colvin – It means we’re paying a good chunk of change to one of the childcare centers in town. But we’ve been extremely happy with the care that we’ve gotten. But yeah, it took a while.

Sagel – Rebecca Calvin, thank you for coming to the Childcare Awareness Fair, where you have a table.

Calvin – Thank you for having me. I’m the lead teacher over at Wooch.ein (Preschool) and I’m here just to advocate for teaching positions and to have a presence here at the summit. 

Sagel – So have you had difficulty this year in filling positions that we choose? 

Calvin – We have had difficulty this year, we have our teacher aide represented as our cook this year, and very little staffing applications have been coming through. So we have very little prospects on being able to open up again, which is really sad. 

Sagel – What has that meant for Wooch.ein?

Calvin – It means that we have one classroom instead of two, that we can’t fully accept all the children that we would be able to into one class because we don’t have proper supervision. 

Sagel – And what do you think would bring people in to apply for a position?

Calvin – Possibly a stipend to entice them into it, maybe a discount on childcare?

Sagel – Childcare expenses are quite big. 

Calvin – They are. 

My name is Erica Apathy, and I’m the director of Betty Eliason Childcare Center. We see children that, especially right now with the pandemic, have not been around a lot of other children. So I have really seen the value of children, interacting with peers, their own age, playing with them, sitting at lunch with them, snack, and having those social opportunities for interactions with children their own age.

Sagel – Hi, I’m here with Jessica Christenson. You had some thoughts about childcare?

Christianson – I just think it’s really key for us to remember that it’s not a concern only of a certain segment of the population, that it’s only your concern if you have a kiddo birth to five, or it’s only your concern if your kid’s in elementary, and you’re trying to find activities or places for them to go after school. That it really is a community-wide investment and interest. And that it’s in all of our interest, and that our solutions will come when we all can put our heads together and think about how to come up with a new solution or how to rethink something that already exists to improve it and make it better.

Hi,  Blue Schibler from the Association for Education of Young Children in Southeast Alaska. I’m in Sitka today enjoying the beautiful weather and helping inform policymakers about the need for public investment in the childcare sector. Similar advocacy efforts in Juneau have resulted in $800,000 a year being added to the city budget for a program that directly subsidizes the operating expenses of childcare programs.

Sagel – I know that some people have declared childcare a broken economy. What does that even mean?

Schibler – Well, that means that childcare as a business is in market failure. Childcare businesses cannot raise their sole source of revenue that comes from parents in order to compete in a tight labor market, or compete in this economy in general. So it’s broken in that way and that it doesn’t fit the model of a traditional business in a free market economy.