© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Hawaii Child Care Providers Struggle To Keep Operating As Children Kept At Home

Flickr - Family MWR

Since Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order took effect, child care providers are now struggling to stay afloat. Many are unsure if they will reopen.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Hawaii was confronting a large unmet demand for affordable child care.


A 2017 study by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found the demand for child care in the state greatly exceeded the supply. Although 64% of children need care because their parents work, state Department of Human Service-regulated child care providers can only take in 25% of that group.


Kamaaina Kids, one of largest child care providers in the state, provided preschool, after school, park and hotel programs for thousands of students.


However, Kamaaina Kids Vice President Buffy Owens explained that the company went from caring for 10,000 children to about 600.


“This has pretty much gutted the entire company. We've laid off well over 500 people. And I don't know what's gonna happen. We're applying for the stimulus plan just like everyone else.”


Kamaaina Kids has rapidly tried to adjust its operations. Preschool parents are no longer allowed in buildings, every child and employee is checked for illness and students are limited to groups of no more than 10.


It has also expanded its operating hours to accommodate essential workers’ hours. That has increased the cost for parents from $120 a month to $680. 


“We were able to get some support from Hawaii Community Foundation to help parents pay the difference,” Owens said.


However, Deborah Zysman, the executive director at Hawaii Children’s Action Network, a child advocacy non-profit said that not all child care providers have access to resources like Kamaaina Kids.


“Many, especially our neighbor islands are actually just often a woman, providing child care out of her home,” she said.  “Those are frankly the ones that you're most concerned about. And we're worried that they may not have as many resources to be able to know how to tap into things like the federal monies.”


 Zysman is referring to the $2 trillion in federal stimulus funds available for those impacted by COVID-19.


The executive director of the national child care advocacy group, Child Care Aware of America, Lynette Fraga noted that Hawaii can look to other states for guidance.


“There are states such as Vermont, which has provided support to both parents and to providers, whether or not they provide care and to parents of essential workers to help parents with costs,” she said. “Absent child care, health care providers and other essential workers can't get to work.”


Child care facilities in Vermont that continue to pay all staff at full salary will have their lost revenues reimbursed by the state.


Some of that cost is passed onto parents by requiring families to pay half of their child’s tuition to hold their spot.


The federal government allocated about $11.3 million for child care subsidies to the Hawaii Department of Human Services in response to the crisis.


It’s not clear yet who all will get the money.


DHS Director Pankaj Bhanot says the governor’s executive order waives many eligibility requirements to receive the subsidies. 


“We have not received any guidance yet as to what the criteria for drawdown will be,” he said. “I have no doubt that families who are such were really struggling because of this pandemic, they'll be able to apply and get child care subsidies.”


But Zysman says her agency is working to make sure child care providers can also receive some of the funds for small business loans.


“I think we're concerned in the same way that we can about restaurants closing down and not reopening. [The] child care industry is very fragile,” she said. “A lot of people are very concerned that this crisis is going to just bankrupt some and force them to close and they won't reopen. We already did not have enough child care in Hawaii going into this mess.”


Hawaii has asked the federal government to allow parents to use their subsidies at more than one child care provider. 

Zysman said the flexibility would go a long way to help both providers and families.


For essential workers, PATCH, the child care referral agency, has a list of licensed and registered providers that are still operating. PATCH said it updates the list regularly.


Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Related Stories