Alaska’s Child Care Task Force has started drafting its recommendations to submit to the governor and Legislature.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the creation of the task force in April to address the availability and affordability of child care in Alaska. Members met in person for the first time Wednesday in Anchorage.
Task Force member Stephanie Berglund, CEO of child care advocacy nonprofit thread Alaska, said she found the all-day, in-person meeting helpful and informative, after several weeks of Zoom meetings.
“We could really deep dive, have open-ended conversations,” Berglund said. “And that was different than we’ve had before.”
The task force began meeting in June, learning about various issues related to the child care crisis, including the cost and availability of care, issues with licensing providers and the impact the state’s child care crunch is having on businesses.
Those initial task force meetings were more like fact-finding excursions, but meetings moving forward will focus on three main topics for recommendations: licensing providers, background checks and the shrinking child care workforce.
So far, some of the group’s recommendations include getting rid of qualification barriers to becoming a child care provider, such as education and age requirements. Others involve giving tribes and local governments their own authority to regulate who gets licensed.
Leah Van Kirk, a state health care policy advisor, said the goal is to encourage the opening of more child care centers, while maintaining levels of safety and care.
“We want to provide high quality care,” Van Kirk said. “But we also want to make sure that we encourage that process to be as efficient as possible so that it doesn’t take so long for somebody to get through that process.”
She said the state is already working to streamline the process for background checks through a web portal and allowing the use of digital fingerprints, rather than mailing out fingerprints for verification.
Berglund, with thread, said she hopes the final list of recommendations will enable the governor and Legislature to take swift action to address child care in a state struggling with high prices, long wait lists and — in some areas — no child care options at all.
“I’m hopeful that there’s recommendations concrete enough for immediate action that there’s immediate action for policy and needed investments to support child care,” she said.
The next in-person meeting of the child care task force will be on Nov. 7. The task force is due to deliver its final recommendations to the governor in December, ahead of the upcoming legislative session.