Juneau child care centers face staff challenges

November 4, 2021 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Programs run by tribal and local governments are seeking to help child care providers in Juneau but challenges remain even with higher wages and bonuses the programs make possible.

Little Eagles and Ravens Nest Child Care Center has advertised continuously for positions since opening in February 2020, before the pandemic took hold. Pay starts around $17 an hour, and entry-level jobs come with tribal government benefits, KTOO Public Media reported.

“We now offer professional development courses and classes that we pay for. As well as, you know, university credits that we would pay for. We have health insurance, life insurance, retirement,” said Jamie Shanley, the executive director. “We’re employees of Central Council of Tlingit and Haida, so our benefits are wonderful. We have holiday pay, paid leave, family leave — and we still can’t find people. So it’s very grim.”


Shanley recently has been able to advertise a temporary, $4 per hour bonus, from federal stimulus money through the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. But she has struggled to get applicants.

Other child care providers are able to get financial assistance through a program the Juneau Assembly started last year, run by the Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children.

Blue Shibler, the nonprofit’s executive director, said since the city began making stipends available to qualified providers, the average starting wage for entry-level child care workers in Juneau has gone from about $11 an hour to about $13 an hour.

“Which is still not great,” Shibler said. Such positions usually do not come with benefits.

One concern with the city-supported program has been that it’s based on the number of children a provider serves. Shibler said each provider participating in the grant program is under-enrolled, despite most having waitlists.

While there are families wanting child care, the centers are “not able to take any additional children because they can’t find staff,” she said.

The city Assembly briefly this week discussed what to do with unspent program funds. Assembly member Michelle Hale asked to send it to participating child care centers as if they were operating at capacity. There were no objections.

The state received about $95 million in federal funds earlier this year to address child care challenges but as of late last month had only written a grant program to distribute $5 million of that statewide, KTOO Public Media previously reported.

“We are hearing that providers are concerned that there isn’t enough funding being distributed initially and that the timeline is taking too long,” said Shawnda O’Brien, director of the state’s Division of Public Assistance, which is responsible for distributing the funds to child care centers. But her staff was moving cautiously, wanting to make a sustainable impact with a one-time fund source, the outlet reported.