March 16, 2021
With over 1,700 locations across the globe, United Way is one of the largest and most recognizable charitable organizations in the world. But the real beauty of our model is that each individual United Way is locally run, operated, and focused. This means we get to throw our work, efforts, and funding behind the unique challenges in our home communities.
At United Way of Whatcom County, we focus on supporting individuals and families who are struggling financially right here at home. These folks are our friends and neighbors-- hard working people who, for a variety of reasons, just aren't getting by.
We know that financial stability is a big issue, and that there are a lot of factors at play. This is why we fund a broad network of nonprofit solutions to address the problem on many levels. Our ultimate goal is to make sure very person in Whatcom County has the tools, resources, and opportunities they need to live up to their full potential and become financially secure.
We do this by funding local nonprofit programs working in three critical areas.
Together, these efforts provide a solid framework on which to build a more financially stable and thriving Whatcom County.
When people have access to basic necessities like food, housing, health and mental health care, they become better able to concentrate on things that will improve their economic mobility and long-term financial picture— like education, employment, job skills, and financial literacy. Once folks are on their way toward household and financial stability, we can help address the negative patterns and systems that have been holding them back. This is where we help to break the cycle of poverty by providing support to prevent violence, abuse, addiction, and other crushing barriers that disproportionately affect underrepresented populations, communities of color, and those who struggle financially.
How does child care fit in to this work?
We've always been big supporters of kids and families. We know that quality child care and early learning programs make a huge difference in subsequent school performace and graduation rates. We also know that when families are healthy and happy, communities are much more likely to be healthy and happy. Over the years, we've funded many agencies working to make sure our community's kids and parents are able to be the best they can be.
In our work around financial stability, child care kept surfacing as a recurring theme. For families with children, child care can make or break their ability to be financially secure. Working parents need child care in order to be able to gain and maintain employment. Not having reliable child care can keep workers from being able to show up for work. It can also keep them out of the workforce altogether, severely restricting potential income and earnings.
It's clear that a lack of affordable, quality child care is affecting local families, care providers, employers, and the economy. In 2019, Whatcom County had a shortfall of 1,910 child care spots. But access isn't everything. Even when child care is available, the high cost of care makes it out of reach for many working parents. Recent data from United Way’s ALICE Report revealed that for families with young children, child care is the highest single expense in the family budget, beating out housing, food, healthcare, technology, and other key categories. Full time, infant child care has a median annual cost of $10,920, more than the combined cost of tuition, books, and fees at Western Washington University.
We recognize that child care is an important piece of the financial stability puzzle. Supporting access to quality child care is an integral step toward increasing access to employment and other economic opportunities for families. Affordable, quality child care allows parents to work their way toward financial stability while ensuring that our community’s children are well cared for and able to thrive.
What are we doing do help?
Having secured grant funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce, United Way of Whatcom County is partnering with Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research to conduct a county-wide survey to assess current child care needs, preferences, and availability. The data collected from this effort will help inform an overall plan to expand local child care resources in a way that benefits children, families, and child care providers in our community.
“This is a really exciting collaboration and a great step toward developing child care sustainability in Whatcom County,” said Cezar Mesquita, Director of Admissions at Western Washington University. “As a United Way Board member, I’m well aware of how United Way funding provides help for families who struggle financially in our community. We know that child care can be a significant factor in being able to achieve financial stability, and we want to make sure local kids and families get the support they need. Western’s Center for Economic and Business Research is going to provide crucial information to help us reshape the child care landscape to better fit our community’s needs.”
The data from this survey will be instrumental to informing solutions. All local families with children who live or work in Whatcom County are encouraged to take the survey here: https://www.unitedwaywhatcom.org/#announcement
United Way’s Commerce Department grant funding is also being used to form the Whatcom Child Care Coalition (WCCC), a collaborative group of child-focused entities and funders who will create a plan to expand child care availability, increase the affordability of care, and bolster the financial health of local child care providers and working families.
What can you do?
Take or share the survey! The child care survey is open through March 28th and parents with young children are encouraged to participate.
Support United Way! When you give to United Way, your dollars go far, supporting over 20 local agencies doing amazing work in our local community. We do the homework on the issues facing our community and the agencies out there doing the hard work to solve them, then invest wisely to make a big impact where it's needed most. Want to see how it works in action? Click here. Or here. Or even here. There are so many examples of United Way in action!
Thanks to everyone who supports this important work. It's what Living United is all about!