weather icon Mostly Cloudy

‘Child care desert’: Most young Nevada children lack access

Updated February 16, 2023 - 12:44 pm

A new state report has found that, despite the high demand for child care in Nevada, nearly 75 percent of children ages 5 and younger don’t have access to a licensed provider.

The Governor’s Workforce Development Board voted Wednesday to approve a 128-page child care policy report from its Childcare Working Group.

As Nevada businesses experience worker shortages, the lack of affordable and accessible child care is a major factor, state officials say.

The board voted in December to create the working group because that problem has continued despite “significant financial investment” to strengthen the state’s child care system, according to the chair of the working group, Susan Brager, who is also a member of the Nevada Board of Regents.

The group has met a few times since early January. A copy of the final report will be given to state legislators for the current legislative session.

“Nevada’s economic recovery post-pandemic has bounced back, but Nevada businesses are still struggling to find workers while parents can’t find affordable and accessible child care,” Brager wrote in a letter included with the report.

‘Child care desert’

Child care costs are a huge concern in Nevada and are often more expensive than college tuition, according to the report.

Katie Gilbertson, the program development, public policy and community engagement manager for the Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation, told the board it was important to highlight that all of Nevada is a child care desert.

Even people who don’t have children may have a business or know a co-worker who’s affected, she said.

The report also says demand for child care in the state is high, with more than 65 percent of children living in households where both parents work, but where the overwhelming majority — 74 percent — of children ages 5 and younger don’t have access to licensed child care.

During a public comment period, representatives from a handful of organizations — including the Vegas Chamber, Southern Nevada Building Trades Unions, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Las Vegas HEALS, a health care membership association — expressed support for the state’s work in addressing child care issues.

The report says “sweeping policy changes” are needed so that the state’s child care system is adequate and accessible to all working families.

Funding audit recommended

The report notes that $571 million in federal coronavirus relief money was allocated in Nevada for child care-related purposes.

One of the policy recommendations calls for an independent audit of the funding that was allocated to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Welfare and Supportive Services.

“It is unclear how much of each of these funding buckets were allocated, encumbered, spent, what is remaining, and how much, if any, was returned to the Federal government as unspent funding,” the report states.

Board member Robert Thompson, administrator of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, abstained from Wednesday’s vote as the report recommends an audit of his agency.

Recommendations also include using existing public spaces like public libraries, recreation centers, schools and state government buildings to provide onsite child care.

The report also calls for expanding partnerships with local nonprofits, as well as increasing wages for child care providers and eliminating licensing and regulatory barriers.

Child care survey

The board also heard a presentation Wednesday about the results of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation’s child care survey, which was open from mid-December through mid-January.

The purpose of the survey was to assess the effects of the child care gap on businesses, according to David Damore, interim executive director of UNLV’s Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West, who conducted the data analysis.

More than 500 businesses responded, and the vast majority were small businesses, Damore said.

Of the respondents, 47 percent said access to child care is an impediment for hiring and retention, while 21.4 percent said it was a “potential impediment,” according to the report.

The report notes that some employers have taken a “grassroots approach” to offering child care, which includes allowing employees to work from home with their children or having a “bring-your-infant-to-work policy,” similar to a new pilot program recently announced by the Nevada State Treasurer’s Office.

“However, individual business policies are not conducive to every working parent in Nevada,” the report said.

Respondents to the survey also noted there are workplaces that aren’t safe for young children and some employees don’t have a job they can do from home.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.